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Wells, Sox are hit hard by this loss

TORONTO -- They were advertised as economical upgrades, Filene's quality at Filene's Basement prices.

David Wells ($2.5 million base pay), Matt Mantei ($750,000), John Halama ($750,000), and Blaine Neal ($321,000), the newest men to the Boston pitching staff. They worked yesterday's game against the Blue Jays in that order, marking the first time this season that an entire Sox game was pitched by people new to the team.

The result: four Blue Jay home runs (including back-to-back-to-back blasts off Wells), 16 Jays hits, and a 12-5 Sox loss before 28,765 at the Rogers Centre.

Wells, who gave up four runs in 4 1/3 innings in his debut vs. the Yankees, was charged with six in 6 1/3 innings yesterday. The bullpen, in 1 2/3 innings, surrendered six more on seven hits, including a Gregg Zaun grand slam off Neal.

"It seems like I'm in spring training mode right now," said Wells, who is 0-2 with an 8.44 ERA on 19 hits, one walk, and one balk, plus eight strikeouts. "I don't have an answer for that."

Toronto had plenty of responses to his stuff early. Wells was taken out of the yard in the third inning in succession by Vernon Wells on a backdoor cutter, Corey Koskie on a fastball, and Shea Hillenbrand on a changeup. According to the Red Sox, no Boston pitcher had surrendered back-to-back-to-back blasts since July 9, 1988, when Wes Gardner gave up consecutive jacks to Chicago's Dan Pasqua, Greg Walker, and Daryl Boston.

The Sox had given up three straight home runs only seven times in 105 years, most recently May 8, 1994, at Yankee Stadium. Paul Quantrill surrendered consecutive blasts that day to Danny Tartabull and Mike Stanley. Butch Hobson replaced Quantrill with Greg Harris, whose first pitch was lost by Gerald Williams.

Though trailing, 5-1, at that point, Wells composed himself and allowed only two hits, a single and a double, to the last 12 Jays he faced. The Sox' offense, meanwhile, began to close the gap. The red-hot David Ortiz launched a three-run blast off the windows of Windows Restaurant high above the wall in dead center, measured at 420 feet, in the sixth inning. The homer, off Toronto ace Roy Halladay (six innings, five earned runs), pulled the Sox within 5-4.

In five games Ortiz is batting .474 (9 for 19) with two home runs, three doubles, two walks, six RBIs, and four runs scored.

The Sox tied the game at 5 the next inning, and had men on second and third with two outs for Manny Ramirez, who was punched out looking on a sharp breaking ball by winning pitcher Jason Frasor.

"I'm hitting like Ichiro," Ramirez said after the game.

What that means is anybody's guess, but it probably means he's hitting the ball on the ground when he does make contact. He grounded out twice more yesterday and is hitting .150 (3 for 20) with three singles and six strikeouts (four looking).

Wells then came out for the bottom of the seventh, allowed a leadoff double to Alex Rios, and struck out Zaun swinging.

"We got in a situation where we needed some strikeouts and I thought Mantei was the guy to do it," Mills said.

Mills was committed to resting Alan Embree and Mike Timlin yesterday. All spring, when asked about Mantei, the Sox have cited how beneficial he will be to Embree and Timlin, both of whom reached career highs in appearances last season. He might help, but yesterday he did not.

Mantei allowed a single to the second batter he faced, Frank Catalanotto, on a 96-mile-per-hour fastball, a run charged to Wells, making it 6-5 Jays. Wells had thrown just 78 pitches at the time he exited, which, in hindsight, seemed a bit too soon.

"If I'm kicking myself at all I'm kicking myself that I let [Wells] go out for that inning," Mills said. "To see a starter come back like he did, you hate to have them lose the ballgame."

It came undone quickly. Mantei allowed a leadoff single to Vernon Wells in the eighth and was lifted. Halama, up next, had Koskie looking at a 2-and-2 pitch, the kind of pitch Curt Schilling gets the call on but Halama does not.

"We wanted it, of course," Mills said. "At that point, you start wanting everything, and maybe you're seeing things with your heart instead of your mind."

Halama walked Koskie, then just missed gloving a Hillenbrand single up the middle that loaded the bases.

"The inning felt apart from there," lamented catcher Jason Varitek.

Halama hit the next batter, Eric Hinske, forcing in Vernon Wells, making it 7-5.

In came Neal, who threw two traumatizing pitches. Rios grounded the first to third baseman Bill Mueller for what was ruled an infield single. Neal then offered to Zaun, who lost Neal's pitch somewhere over the right-field wall for a grand slam, capping a six-run inning. "At that time, our choices were getting limited," Mills said. "We got these guys. They're going to be needed, and they're going to be OK. Yeah, it was tough. We're going to be able to find out how things are going to be able to work out."

Translation: The Sox are going to find out who can pitch under duress and who cannot. That decision needs to be made quickly. Schilling is eligible to come off the DL Tuesday, and the Sox will need to clear a roster spot, which figures to be Neal (who is out of minor league options), Dave McCarty, or Kevin Youkilis. But Mantei didn't want this one to be pinned on Neal or Halama. "We lost because I didn't get the outs we needed," he said. "It wasn't the guys after me. It was me."

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