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Sheff's special

Page 2 of 2 -- Sheffield, bat wagging, violently launched his body into a swing, his feet actually coming off the ground with the force of his body uncoiling. The box score will show a homer, but this was no arching shot. This was a screaming liner -- the result of Sheffield's ferocious swing meeting a 95 mile-per-hour fastball -- that disappeared into Row 1 of the third deck in left.

''It was one of the hardest home runs I've seen hit," said Sox manager Terry Francona. ''That ball was killed. If it was on our team, I would have admired it."

Sheffield's torpedo, his eighth homer, propelled the Yankees to a 6-3 lead that stood up. The Sox matched a season high with 13 men left on base. They've averaged more than eight men left on through 47 games, and the lack of timely hitting probably has some bearing on why the Sox bullpen went into last night with the American League's highest ERA (5.08).

Francona said he believes his bullpen will weather this, while adding, ''Mistakes lately, it's been for home runs that have directly affected outcomes of games."

Embree, just three days earlier, gave up the three-run, walkoff shot to Toronto's Reed Johnson. Embree's been taken deep six times, tying him with Keith Foulke and David Wells for the team lead.

Francona defended the decision to allow Embree, a lefthander, to face the righthanded-hitting Sheffield, citing Embree's career success against the slugger (Sheffield was 1 for 6 vs. Embree with a home run that came when both were in the National League).

Plus, Francona said, ''That's a little early to start mixing and matching. Alan's had success vs. those guys."

But in the end, the odds failed. All this leaves the Sox in a dour state.

''I'd say we're all frustrated right now," Embree said. ''Everyone's got their own problems. We've got to get it done instead of sitting here and worrying about it."

But, it's tough not to worry, with realities like this: The Yankees have won 16 of 18. The Sox have lost nine of 13. At 0-4, the Sox need Matt Clement to outdo Carl Pavano today or David Wells to beat Mike Mussina tomorrow night to avoid a winless road trip. They had Johnson where they wanted him, thanks to Jason Varitek, who in the fifth inning powered a slider out of the deep part of the park, in left-center, just right of the 399-foot sign, for a 2-0 lead.

Varitek has become a serial home run hitter this season. Last year, he launched No. 10 July 10 on his way to hitting 18. Presently, he's on pace for 34. But Wakefield struggled to hold the leads.

Leading, 3-1, he was brought out for the sixth despite walking six and hitting a batter. He then gave up the lead in six pitches. He walked Bernie Williams on five, then surrendered a shot into the bleachers in right-center off the bat of the 22-year-old Cano, who came into the night with one hit in his previous 16 at-bats.

Jeter followed with a single, and that ended Wakefield's night after five innings-plus. He began the year 2-0 in four starts with a 1.75 ERA. In his six starts since, he's 2-4 with a 6.38 ERA.

The Sox had a chance to take him off the hook, with two men on in the ninth for Bill Mueller, who was 4 for 9 career against Mariano Rivera. But Mueller took a called third strike away to end it. 

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