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Fall guy

Lowe stumbles as Yankees erupt

NEW YORK -- How ugly was it? Ask one of the closest eyewitnesses to measure it on a scale of 1 to 10.

"With a 10 being the ugliest?" Red Sox first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz inquired.

Yes, indeed.

"How about a 12?" he said.

Or a 13? Or a 33?

It was that ugly yesterday as Derek Lowe bumbled through his shortest outing in 98 starts for the Sox, retiring only three batters as he steered the team off course in its drive for the division title in a 14-4 rout by the Yankees before 55,153 in the Bronx. Lowe mucked up nearly every challenge he faced before Alex Rodriguez added injury to insult by lining a ball off Lowe's right shin, mercifully knocking him out of the game with none out in the second inning.

"Getting hit on the leg was kind of the icing on the cake," Lowe said. "Nothing went right."

Lowe's untimely lapse in his biggest start of the season allowed the Yankees to regain a 3 1/2-game lead in the American League East, with the Sox down to their final 15 games. Good thing they comfortably control the wild-card race with a 5 1/2-game lead over the Angels.

The ugliness was the last thing the Sox needed after their electrifying, come-from-behind victory against Mariano Rivera the night before.

"It's tough," manager Terry Francona said. "We come into a huge series and we had such an exciting game last night. You're excited to start today, but about a half-hour into it, you're trying to regroup."

While Yankees starter Jon Lieber didn't allow a hit for 6 2/3 innings, Lowe came and went, submitting his shortest outing since he lasted only one-third of an inning for the Mariners against the Padres July 3, 1997.

"Terrible," then-Seattle manager Lou Piniella said of Lowe's performance.

Francona was less biting, but no less frank than Piniella in evaluating Lowe's latest woes.

"We didn't deserve to win," Francona said. "We didn't come close. When the game was getting out of hand early on, there was a reason it got out of hand. We didn't play very good."

The Sox tried everything to straighten out Lowe. Catcher Jason Varitek worked with him during a subpar bullpen session. Pitching coach Dave Wallace visited him on the mound. Even second baseman Pokey Reese tried to buoy Lowe while he allowed five of the first six batters he faced to reach base.

"I was just telling him he's the man," Reese said. "He gave up some runs early, but it's a long game. I was just trying to get his confidence up."

Nothing helped. After he walked Bernie Williams with the bases loaded to force in the first Yankee run and surrendered a two-run single to Jorge Posada, Lowe aggravated matters by fielding a grounder by John Olerud and firing fruitlessly to third base rather than getting the easy out at first.

"There was no explanation for it," Lowe said. "I did everything they tell you to do. You look the guy back to third. But once you do that you're supposed to throw the ball to first base, not to third base. I dug our team a pretty big hole."

He deepened it by failing to properly cover first when the next batter, Ruben Sierra, bounced a potential inning-ending double play ball to Mientkiewicz. After Mientkiewicz fired to second for the first out, Lowe overran first base and Orlando Cabrera's relay throw, with Cabrera effectively getting an error for Lowe's mistake.

Rather than escaping the first with a 3-0 deficit, Lowe's miscues left the Sox trailing, 5-0.

"That's why you try not to give people extra outs," Francona said flatly.

Lowe started the second inning by walking Derek Jeter and taking A-Rod's line drive off his shin before he departed. X-rays on his shin were negative, as were the reviews of his outing.

"He's just couldn't ever get it going," Varitek said. "His command wasn't there." The outing was reminicient of one against the Rangers on April 24, 2003, when Lowe lasted but two innings and surrendered seven runs in a 16-5 loss. "A poor performance is a poor performance; I don't care where it is," Lowe said. "The biggest frustration was the non-competitiveness of the game. It gave Lieber a tremendous lead." And Lieber ran with it, handcuffing the Sox until David Ortiz slugged his first opposite-field homer since April 11 with two outs in the seventh inning.

"He had all his pitches working," said Reese, who fanned three times. "He's tough when he's on." Mientkiewicz mustered the second Sox hit, a double with two out in the eighth, before Kevin Youkilis singled with one out in the ninth and scored on a homer by Dave Roberts that chased Lieber. Doug Mirabelli knocked in the final Sox run with a double off Scott Proctor.

In the end, the Sox turned to Pedro Martinez to help get them back on track today in the series finale against Mike Mussina.

"I'm sure they feel good about their guy, but we feel good about ours, too," Francona said. "It will be fun."

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