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Closing time for Foulke

Agent says he's just not healthy

BALTIMORE -- Red Sox reliever Keith Foulke, vital in the club's run to a World Series title last season, is not expected to pitch again this season because of ongoing concerns with his left knee, his agent said yesterday.

Foulke flew to Boston to be reevaluated by team physician Thomas Gill yesterday afternoon but also plans to see other doctors, his Beverly Hills-based agent, Dan Horwits, said.

The decision to leave the club, at the start of a critical three-game series in Baltimore, was made, Horwits said, after Foulke met with general manager Theo Epstein, manager Terry Francona, and the team's training staff during the Tampa Bay trip, with Gill participating by phone.

Red Sox officials, responding to a report first aired by WEEI that claimed Foulke was shutting it down for the season, announced that Foulke had returned to Boston to see Gill. Beyond that, the team said, no decision had been made. But Horwits, speaking by phone from his Beverly Hills office, indicated that Foulke's knee has not improved since he underwent arthroscopic surgery July 7.

''He's just not healthy," said Horwits, who spoke with Foulke Wednesday. ''Clearly, there's something wrong. For his knee to feel the same way it did before surgery, this long after the surgery, this obviously is not just a matter of giving it a couple of more days."

The pitcher's concern, Horwits said, is that by compensating for the knee pain, he could risk injuring his elbow or shoulder.

''His mechanics are off, his body is not feeling right," Horwits said. ''It's just not getting better, so it makes sense to take care of it now."

Horwits said he was not sure which doctors Foulke intended to consult for other assessments but indicated another surgical procedure might be necessary.

''If you ask me that question today, from what I'm hearing, it looks like they'll have to go back in there," Horwits said.

Foulke, who missed eight weeks, returning Sept. 1, never regained his role as closer, nor did he rediscover enough command or confidence to suggest he had any shot at closing again this season. He received only one opportunity to pitch with a lead in six September appearances, struggled in mop-up duty, and wasn't in line to make the postseason roster.

Foulke, in 37 games (39 innings pitched) before surgery, was 5-5 with a 6.23 ERA, 15 saves, 4 blown saves, and allowed 8 home runs. In six games (6 2/3 IP) since surgery, he was 0-0 with a 4.05 ERA. That, for the season, amounts to a 5-5 record and 5.91 ERA, ending a personal stretch of six consecutive seasons with an ERA of 2.97 or lower.

In fact, between the beginning of the 1999 season and the end of 2004, Foulke was 26-21 in the regular season with a 2.43 ERA and 171 saves. Mariano Rivera, by comparison, was 25-21 in that span with 252 saves and a 2.20 ERA.

But Foulke struggled all season with health and personal issues, hinting at the latter but never offering specifics. During his rehab, in August, he acknowledged that he regretted not having left knee surgery in spring training. In August, he also said that arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, coupled with an offseason to clear his mind, would allow him to come back next spring with the chance to be the pitcher he once was.

The Sox have to hope so. Foulke, who turns 33 next month, is making $7 million this season and will make $7.25 million next year. The Sox hold a $7.5 million club option for 2007 with a $1.5 million buyout. Foulke has a $3.75 million player option. The buyout is guaranteed, unless the option vests.

The team option vests if Foulke finishes a combined 95 games in 2005 and 2006. He finished just 37 this season, though he finished 61 for the Sox last season. The 2007 team option also becomes Foulke's at $7.75 million if he finishes in the top five in the Cy Young Award voting next season.

Foulke, on the radio and to beat reporters, has conveyed an eagerness for the season to end. After a stellar 2004 postseason -- he allowed one run in 14 innings -- Foulke has projected a dour imagine almost from Day 1 this season.

His struggles began the second day of the season -- when Derek Jeter homered off him to win a game in New York-- and reached its zenith July 4, when he blew a save at Texas and landed on the operating table three days later.

Foulke felt so bothered by fan and media attention this year he told a San Francisco Chronicle reporter a week ago he intends to move out of the city of Boston before next season.

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