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After this clunker, winning is no longer routine

It's OK to wash the uniforms now. Lynn Jones can bring out the lineup card again. Papa Jack can change the batting practice rotations, and public relations master Peter Chase can stop wearing those brown shoes he bought before the undefeated road trip.

The Sox lost to the Indians, 7-0, last night at Fenway. It was their first loss since June 18. The Franconamen had won seven in a row, vaulted into first place, and looked like they were ready to go unbeaten for the rest of the month. But they left all the thunder, slick fielding, and precision pitching in Philadelphia.

Snapping a streak can be liberating. The lucky socks start to smell bad. The same food every day starts to lose its taste. One can become a prisoner to superstition . . .

But there is no choice. A streak is a streak and it is not to be messed with. Just think about last October and all those pregame shots of Jack Daniels. The Sox won their final eight games, a playoff record. They looked like they could have played into December and never lost. It was the ultimate winning streak, one that carried them all the way to Opening Night 2005 at Yankee Stadium.

It felt a bit like that last week when the Sox slashed their way through Cleveland and Philly. But last night they couldn't hit Kevin Millwood, and they had trouble with the gloves. Ever-steady Mark Bellhorn committed a crucial error, and Trot Nixon tipped a long flyball into the visitor's bullpen. This one was over long before ''Sweet Caroline."

There were some bad omens early. First base coach Jones had taken out the lineup card every game on the 6-0 road trip, but Terry Francona's lieutenant Brad Mills always gets the assignment for the start of a home series because he is the one who best explains the ground rules.

Earl Weaver always stuck with the same guy when he had a win streak going. Not Francona. He has no respect for the streak.

'If we start winning because of the socks I'm wearing, then I'm overpaid," said the manager after the loss. ''The season is too long. That stuff takes too much energy. I've never been superstitious."

Johnny Damon is another who spit in the face of the streak. Though he came home with a 13-game hitting streak, Damon shaved his beard before the game -- no doubt angering the streak god. Damon was able to extend his hitting streak with an infield dribbler in the first inning, but the Sox' winning streak went down the drain with Smoothface Johnny's whiskers.

''Most of the things we do involve hair," said Kevin Millar. ''We've shaved heads to get things going. I'm working on my Amish look now. In 2002, I had a 25-game hitting streak and I couldn't change batting gloves. By the end, there was hardly any glove left and no strap to hold 'em on, but I kept using 'em. It got so I almost wanted an oh-fer, just so I could get some new gloves."

''I never made much of those things," said David Wells. ''Talk to Nomar."

Indeed. In Nomar Garciaparra and Wade Boggs, the Red Sox had two of the all-time ritual guys.

And while we're talking about streaks, try this: The Sox went 116 games without getting shut out at home before the Pirates stuffed them June 18. Now they have been blanked twice in their last three Fenway games.

Time to put the unis into the frontloader with extra bleach.

There wasn't much other news on this night the Sox came home. Before the game, Francona talked about All-Star possibilities and hinted that Matt Clement might wind up starting the midsummer classic for the American League. If Clement is somehow overlooked, we're not expecting him to go Oil Can Boyd on us.

The Indians impressed early arrivals by taking infield practice. Kudos to Tribe manager Eric Wedge (remember the stink we raised when Lou Gorman left Wedge unprotected in the expansion draft of 1992?). Infield practice is strictly Old School. It's practically like wearing a straw hat or having your players leave their gloves on the field when they come in to hit.

Patriots general manager Scott Pioli was a guest of Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro. Pioli had his new championship ring, but kept it in his pocket unless asked to display it. Paired with the Sox paperweight bling, one could assemble a New England championship dumbbell that would yield millions for some local charity. Bob Kraft and John Henry should consider creating such an item.

Aaron Boone's first appearance at Fenway since You Know When was humbling (he went 0 for 2). Fenway folk showered him with Bucky Dent boos when he was announced and Boone whiffed on three pitches from Bronson Arroyo. Boone gets to hit against Tim Wakefield Wednesday. There are no plans to hand out commemorative pins.

The Tribe broke through for three cheap runs in the top of the fourth and the Sox found themselves behind for the first time since the eighth inning last Wednesday in Cleveland. The Indians scored another in the fifth, then put it away with two homers and three runs in the seventh. Nixon's Wilt (or Wes) Chamberlain-esqe tip-in of Grady Sizemore's long fly was the final clue that this was not going to be the Sox' night.

And so the streak is over and they are free to start with new routines.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is

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