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Strand and deliver

Red Sox falter in clutch; Yankees come through

When you've pitched 2,356 2/3 innings and allowed 2,280 hits (303 of them home runs), and when you throw a pitch that floats like a butterfly and gets stung often, you gain some perspective and acceptance. That doesn't mean you don't compete. It merely means that moments like last night's seventh inning, when this game -- a 7-5 loss to the Yankees before 36,290 at Fenway -- slipped away, are sometimes unavoidable for 39-year-old Tim Wakefield.

Wakefield, in a 4-1 hole, walked Derek Jeter on four pitches, then put Gary Sheffield on base on four more balls. He began Alex Rodriguez with two balls, making it an even 10 in a row. And then he left one over the plate to A-Rod, who let rip, sending one tumbling into the Monster seats in left center.

``I'm a fly-ball pitcher, I'm pitching in one of the smallest parks in the American League, I can't think about that stuff," Wakefield said of the fact that when the ball leaves his hand, he might be throwing an utterly hittable pitch. ``It's one of those things where if it ain't working, it's going to leave the ballpark quick."

It did, and that one pitch, the 114th and final pitch of Wakefield's evening, all but decided last night's proceedings, sending the Sox to only their second loss in six games this year against the Yankees. Wakefield allowed bookend homers, A-Rod's blast to end his day and Johnny Damon's leadoff blast to begin the day. For Damon, the homer inside Pesky's Pole marked his fifth of the season, his 17th career leadoff homer.

The Sox, down, 1-0 after one inning, 3-0 after three, 4-1 after six, and 7-1 midway through the seventh, could point to their lack of clutch hitting for not putting up a better fight. After going 12 for 22 (.545) with runners in scoring position the previous three nights, they went 3 for 15 (.200), leaving runners on second and/or third in the first, second, fourth, sixth, seventh, and eighth innings.

The bottom of the order was particularly ineffective, though. Terry Francona talked before the game about the Sox' improved offense being a result of top-to-bottom production.

``I think the bottom of our order has been getting involved more," Francona said pregame. ``We talk about keeping the line moving. If the middle of your order is hitting and the bottom isn't, you only have certain innings when you can score."

Last night, the bottom didn't muster anything more than Doug Mirabelli's RBI single in the sixth. In the second, with two on and no outs, Mirabelli popped out, Willie Harris fanned, and Kevin Youkilis uncharacteristically chased a 95-mile-per-hour high fastball unleashed by Jaret Wright (5 innings, 4 hits, 0 runs).

In the fourth, with two on and one out, Mirabelli came up and whiffed, with Harris popping up to leave two on. Two innings later, the Sox again threatened, with the bottom of the order in position to deliver. It was 4-0 Yankees at the time, when Mirabelli singled in a run, bringing up the No. 9 spot with two men on base, one out, and the Sox down, 4-1. J.T. Snow pinch hit for Harris and grounded into an inning-ending double play.

In the top of the seventh, Wakefield got into difficulty, walking Jeter and Sheffield to establish a season-high in walks with five. Still, Francona stuck with Wakefield against A-Rod, who to that point was 0 for 3 with two of Wakefield's five K's.

``He had handled Alex tonight," Francona said. ``That's probably the hardest thing for me, not necessarily tonight but in all the games because Wake is going to walk people but it doesn't necessarily mean he's losing it. Right there I wasn't comfortable with the results, but I was comfortable letting him face him."

But Wakefield left one over the plate and Rodriguez mashed it, for his 11th of the year and second in as many nights for a 7-1 lead.

The Sox did make a push, with Manny Ramírez supplying the power. Ramírez, facing Scott Proctor in the bottom of the seventh, fell behind, 0-and-2, swinging and missing badly at a breaking ball to fall into hitter's hell. A night earlier, though, Chien-Ming Wang left an 0-and-2 fastball over the middle of the plate and Ramírez hammered it to dead center for a home run.

Catcher Jorge Posada wanted Proctor to make Ramírez chase something outside on 0-and-2. He lined up probably a full foot off the plate, but Proctor threw one on the inside corner at 96 m.p.h. Ramirez unloaded.

The swing was clinical, the celebration something only Ramirez could do. While following through, he tossed the bat to his left and swung his arms up, as if to make his signature two-arm point in the direction of the ball. He then let his hands swing by his side, still standing in the box, watching and contemplating the ball's path as it took flight into the seats in straightaway center. Yankees 7, Sox 4.

``He has the most unbelievable swing of any guy because he's so quiet at the plate but so powerful once he decides to swing," Mike Lowell said. ``Tito tells me he gets on runs like this that last a month."

Mike Myers came in and walked Trot Nixon. Joe Torre then elected for Kyle Farnsworth, who got Lowell to fly out before walking Alex Cora. That brought up Mirabelli with two on and two out, with the bottom of the order again in position to deliver. Francona could have pinch hit Jason Varitek against the righthanded flamethrower, Farnsworth, but stuck with Mirabelli, who with three gigantic swings fanned.

``Wanted Dougie to hit there, couple reasons," Francona said. ``One, that Wall looks close when Dougie's hitting against a guy who runs a fastball up there pretty good. The other reason is just that I think if Tek catches in 150 games, we're going to wear him down. It's a lot easier to go to Tek later."

The Sox rallied once more in the eighth against a Yankee bullpen that threw 93 pitches, only 53 of them strikes, in relief of Wright, who left against his will with a tweaked groin. Farnsworth, to begin the eighth, fanned Dustan Mohr before walking Youkilis and Mark Loretta, meaning it was time for Mariano Rivera to come in for a five-out save.

He popped up David Ortiz, allowed Ramirez an RBI single, then popped up Nixon. In the ninth Rivera allowed a one-out Cora single but otherwise slammed the door for his ninth save.

``We made them use their bullpen," Francona said. ``Who knows, maybe we win a game [today] because of it."

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