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Sloppy Sox are sunk in Seattle

SEATTLE -- Forget about the curse and the Sports Illustrated jinx. The Red Sox last night fell victim to a brief revival of their first-half defensive woes and a Native American pitcher who invokes the spirit of his Lakota Sioux ancestors -- the same tribe that helped annihilate General Custer at Little Big Horn.

On a night that unfolded as a losing proposition -- the AL East-leading Yankees swept a doubleheader from the Devil Rays in the Bronx -- the Sox aggravated matters by succumbing for only the third time in 23 games thanks to their miscues in the field, a second straight difficult outing for Tim Wakefield, and a dandy performance by Seattle rookie Bobby Madritsch.

Five unearned runs, two errors, a passed ball, and the team's first balk (by Ramiro Mendoza) in 306 games: You name it and the Sox seemed to step in it as they rudely interrupted their run of sensational defense since their blockbuster trade July 31 and bowed to the Mariners, 7-1, before 29,656 at Safeco Field.

With the sweep in New York and the defeat in Seattle, the Sox slipped from 2 games to 3 1/2 behind the Yankees with 23 to play. However, they maintained their five-game edge in the wild-card race over the Angels, 5-4 losers to the Blue Jays.

"You're not going to go out there and win 30 in a row," said Manny Ramirez, who made the biggest error by misplaying a drive by Dan Wilson to clear the way for four unearned runs in the fifth inning. "Once you're mentally prepared, you know what to expect. It's all about having fun. It's not about panicking."

As much as the Sox fell victim to their own deficiencies, they were mystified by Madritsch, whose body is adorned with 17 tattoos, most notably a "medicine wheel" on his neck, derived from his Lakota heritage. No stranger to adversity, Madritsch has not seen his mother since he was baby and grew up on Chicago's gang-ridden South Side before he made his way to Seattle on a journey that included a detour to Winnipeg in the independent Northern League.

The lefthander blanked the Sox on five hits and three walks over eight innings while Wakefield struggled nearly as much as his defense.

"He showed us that he's going to be a decent pitcher," Johnny Damon of Madritsch after the rookie snapped Damon's 11-game hitting streak. "This team doesn't stack up well against guys we haven't seen before."

In fact, the Sox fell to 0-5 this season when facing a rookie pitcher for the first time, according to the Maniacal One, Chuck Waseleski.

"He pitched a great game," Ramirez said. "That guy was nasty. You have to give him credit."

Wakefield, who hurt his cause by committing a costly throwing error in the first inning, surrendered seven runs (two earned) on seven hits, three walks, and two hit batsmen over 4 2/3 innings. He fell to 11-9 in trying to bounce back from allowing eight runs in an 8-6 loss to the Rangers last weekend.

"I don't want to be the guy [who loses] when we win four out of five," Wakefield said. "The last two starts of mine haven't been very good. The team's on a roll and I feel like the last couple of times I haven't really helped out in our winning ways. I'm just very disappointed in myself, but it's not going to prevent me from working any harder."

The Sox, who had not lost by more than three runs in 28 games since Aug. 9, reached third base only twice against Madritsch. The lefty also held the heart of the Sox order -- Ramirez, David Ortiz, and Kevin Millar -- hitless as he fired a career-high 126 pitches. The only Sox batter to collect two hits against Madritsch was Mark Bellhorn, who doubled and singled as he reached safely in his 22d straight game. Orlando Cabrera, Doug Mirabelli, and Bill Mueller mustered the only other hits off Madritsch, all singles.

"I took this as a playoff game," Madritsch said. "You can't be intimidated at this level. I'm in the big leagues, just like those guys."

The Sox scored their lone run on Cabrera's solo shot off reliever Scott Atchison with one out in the ninth.

Seattle snapped a seven-game losing streak as Madritsch became the team's first starter to pick up a win in 17 games since Aug. 22.

Of the three Sox losses over the last 23 games, Wakefield has been on the mound for two. The other came at the hands of Toronto's Ted Lilly, who outdueled Pedro Martinez Aug. 23 with a three-hit shutout.

"He walked three and he hit two and he pitched behind in the count a lot," Sox manager Terry Francona said of Wakefield. "And the way their kid pitched, it made it seem like the difference was more."

The blowout unfolded while Ichiro Suzuki chased George Sisler's 84-year-old season hit record (257). Suzuki went 2 for 4 with a walk to close within 28 hits of Sisler.

One of the ironies of Boston's ineptitude in the field was that Seattle took the unusual step of holding an extra practice before the game for the pitchers. But Francona saw no reason for dismay over the defensive lapses. The Sox allowed the five unearned runs after surrendering only seven over the previous 35 games.

"I felt like tonight was more the aberration the way we're constituted right now," Francona said. "Teams are going to make errors. We're OK."

Ramirez's error was the most glaring. Playing in against Wilson, Ramirez needed to cover a good deal of ground to reach the ball on the warning track in left-center before it glanced off his glove.

"I missed the ball," he said, "but at least I went hard out there."

The Sox have one of their chief stoppers, Curt Schilling, going tonight to get the team back on track. And Ramirez could hardly wait. Gesturing as if he were flipping through a book, he said, "You know something? Tomorrow is another day. We're going to turn the page."

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