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Bats take a break

Sox' offense struggles as Orioles win opener

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Just kidding about the dateline. But this one -- a 7-3 loss to a demoralized, dragging flock of Orioles -- had that feel.

The Sox, in losing at Fenway Park for only the second time in 21 home games, sent Lenny DiNardo to the mound for his first career start. They faced a 24-year-old Floridian named John Maine, who was making his fourth career start. They used 19 players, one of whom, Alejandro Machado, made his major league debut. They rolled out four pitchers in the seventh inning alone, two of whom (Chad Harville and Matt Perisho) needed introductions, one of whom (Keith Foulke) needed a reintroduction.

''We're trying to get a good feel for where we can use our guys successfully," summarized manager Terry Francona.

Welcome to spring training, in September, amid a pennant chase.

Foulke? Three days shy of Labor Day, he pitched for the first time since the Fourth of July. He entered with two outs in the seventh, the Sox behind, 6-3, and threw only 10 pitches, allowing an RBI single to Jay Gibbons on an 0-and-2 changeup before getting Javy Lopez to line out to right. All of his fastballs came in at 86 or 87 miles per hour, his changeups between 75 and 78.

He did not make himself available postgame. Francona, asked what he could say about Foulke's outing, began with: ''We got it out of the way." And that's really all that could be said on this night, Foulke's stay too brief for any real analysis.

''He got Javy, who has really been tough on him," Francona noted. ''We got it out of the way, which I thought was necessary and good."

Despite being a team in an absolute spiral -- losers of 10 of 14 -- the Orioles keep getting in Boston's way. The Sox have won just five times in 13 games vs. Baltimore this season, held to a .240 average and 3.8 runs per game. No American League team has held the Sox to a lower team batting average.

Baltimore, in fact, held the Sox scoreless for the closing five innings, Boston plating two in the first, one in the fourth, and nothing more. Maine (6-11 with a 4.56 ERA in 23 Triple A starts this season) struggled in the first, then shut the Sox down (5 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 2 ER).

He allowed both hits in the first inning, when the Sox loaded the bases on a Manny Ramirez single sandwiched between two walks. Jason Varitek attempted to check a swing but still sent the ball about 270 feet into the left-field corner for a two-run double.

That would be the Sox' last hit off Maine (2-1, 2.91 ERA). Johnny Damon thought the Sox allowed the young righthander to ''get too comfortable. It seems like these young guys pitching are tough on us. We're guessing a little more."

DiNardo, in his 26th big league appearance but first start, kept the Sox in the game, allowing four runs (but just one earned) on seven hits over six innings. Baltimore touched him for three runs, none earned, in the second, when the Orioles snatched a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Bill Mueller made the error of note on a hard smash down the line by Lopez with one out and nobody on base. It was a tough call -- a ball hit hard, on one hop, that Mueller managed to knock down but not catch cleanly. When he picked it up and threw, he was too late.

Chris Gomez singled, knocking in a run, and Luis Matos followed with a two-run Wall double.

Baltimore rookie Alejandro Freire made it 4-2, Orioles, leading off the fourth with his first career homer, a shot that tucked itself just inside Pesky's Pole.

The Sox loaded the bases in the bottom of that inning for Damon. A lifetime .399 hitter with the bases full, Damon flied out to deep center to knock in a run. But Edgar Renteria struck out with two aboard to end the inning, the Sox still down, 4-3. Renteria also popped out to second base with two on to end the game.

The Sox failed to score at least seven runs at home for the first time in 15 games.

''We didn't score seven runs tonight," David Ortiz said, ''so that's why we lost."

With DiNardo, who pitched for the suspended David Wells, out after six innings, Francona went to his bullpen. In the seventh inning alone, he rolled out, in order, Harville (two batters), Perisho (one), Bradford (two), and Foulke (two).

''I ended up making a lot of trips out there," the skipper noted. ''It didn't work out like I wanted it to."

Harville showed considerably better than Perisho, even though Harville would be assessed an earned run. He walked the first hitter he faced with the count full, got a ground-ball out, and exited. His fastball -- he also throws a slider, curveball, and changeup -- peaked at 94 m.p.h. with some deception at the release point.

''I thought Chad showed great stuff," Francona said.

Harville was 0-2 with a 4.46 ERA in 37 games with Houston but compiled a 1.17 ERA in his last 13 appearances before being waived.

''I was throwing well over there, but I was their long guy, and on that staff, they don't need a long guy," Harville said. ''They were getting so many quality starts.

''I didn't get consistent work.

''Tito says he'll get me some work over here. I'm sure he's trying to figure out how he's going to use guys. Hopefully, I make it easier on him to figure out what he wants to do."

The lefthanded Perisho, summoned next, surrendered a run-scoring double to the only batter he faced, Brian Roberts, allowing Harville's run to score.

''We were trying to turn Roberts around; didn't work very well," Francona said. ''Left a pitch right over the plate."

It was an experiment. There will be many more over the coming days and weeks. Twenty-nine games to play. A 3 1/2-game lead on the Yankees.

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