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Chance slips away

Loss keeps Sox out of virtual tie for first

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- At this rate, the demand for Javy Lopez souvenir Red Sox jerseys may be slow to develop.

Given a golden chance to give his new fan base a reason to celebrate his arrival, Lopez grounded into a bases-loaded, game-ending double play last night in an 8-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Tropicana Field.

``It seemed like I was hitting fungoes to the shortstop all night," said Lopez, who is hitless in nine at-bats, with two strikeouts and two GIDPs, in this series against the Devil Rays, who last night took advantage of a fourth-inning bobble by first baseman David Ortiz to score four unearned runs against David Wells, tacked on three late ones against Craig Hansen, then held on for dear life.

Ortiz dropped a bunt single ahead of Manny Ramírez's 31st home run in the eighth, when the Sox drew to within a run, only to see the Devil Rays answer against Hansen, who has been scored upon in five of 11 appearances since the All-Star break. Josh Paul hit a two-run double over Gabe Kapler's head in right, took third on the throw home, and scored on Ben Zobrist's sacrifice fly to make it 8-4.

``It would have been a lot more interesting if we could have held them down in the eighth," Sox manager Terry Francona said.

Ortiz then delivered an RBI single off Brian Meadows after Mark Loretta's double in the ninth, before another hit by Ramírez and a walk to Kevin Youkilis loaded the bases. After Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon made a trip to the mound, Lopez swung at the first pitch and scorched a grounder right at rookie shortstop Zobrist, who had no trouble turning two to end the game.

``It's never comfortable," Maddon said, about having to get through Ramírez and Ortiz in each of Boston's last two at-bats. ``I don't care who you've got out on the mound. Those guys. They're freaks. They are. If you throw a strike and they can reach it, they hit it hard.

``Ruth and Gehrig. Batman and Robin. I don't know. They're like the best combo in the history, maybe, of the world. Peanut butter and jelly. Chocolate and red wine. They're the best. They're the best I've ever seen. We got the ground ball to short, my goodness. It was uneasy. Very uneasy."

Almost as uneasy as Ortiz was at first base. He acknowledged he wasn't enchanted about playing the field for the first time since two straight starts in Seattle last month, when Ramírez served as designated hitter to give his aching knee a break.

``I'm an employee here, I do what they tell me, you know what I'm saying," Ortiz said. ``We're going through a situation here with guys injured, so I do what they tell me to do."

With Damon Hollins aboard on a leadoff single in the fourth, Ortiz gloved a ball hit to his right by Carl Crawford, but when Ortiz went to throw to second, the ball popped out.

``In my situation, I think when I go out there, sometimes you have to flip a coin. Sometimes, I'm OK, sometimes I [stink]. I guess tonight was a night I [stunk]. It was a ball I've got to catch. It was a ball I tried to throw before I caught the ball, and it got me in trouble. Bad decision, I guess.

``I was trying to do my best. I can't do too much over there. It can't be all fantasy."

The Sox, with a chance to draw virtually even again with the Yankees in the American League East after the Bombers were shut out by Baltimore earlier in the day, remained a game behind the Yankees, while falling a half-game behind the White Sox in the wild-card race. With three regulars out of the starting lineup -- catcher Jason Varitek, right fielder Trot Nixon, and third baseman Mike Lowell, who missed a second straight game with a sore left foot -- it underscored the short bench that the flu-ridden Francona has to manage, and served as a further reminder that the Sox came up empty at the trading deadline.

``I don't really want to get involved in any of that," Ortiz said, ``but to at least get to the playoffs, you got to do something, I guess. You know how tough this division is, and it's not easy to lose games like this, and not having what you need all the time."

A lefthanded hitter who could play the outfield and the corners, especially with the uncertainty regarding Lowell, would be ideal, but Aubrey Huff -- once a Sox target when he was with the Devil Rays -- is playing in Houston now. Help may be on the way in the next few days, but this afternoon the Sox will try to win the rubber game of this series with Jason Johnson, which shouldn't make anyone in a Sox uniform giddy.

Wells, who was matched against his body opposite, Casey Fossum, was facing the team that had placed him on the endangered species list, and last night the harpoons came fast and furious at him again.

This time, the Devil Rays did not score a direct hit the way Travis Lee did when the first baseman dropped Wells with a liner off his surgically repaired right knee May 26, putting the lefthander out of commission for two months. But the Devil Rays had the 43-year-old Wells scrambling last night, especially during a four-run fourth in which three singles came back through the box, one striking Wells on the instep of his right foot. Wells, who had set down the first nine Devil Rays in order, also gave up a home run to Greg Norton in the sixth.

The Sox have now lost six times in nine games here to the Devil Rays, who have never before known the sweet smell of such success here against the Sox.

According to Maddon, Ortiz had caught a whiff of the manager's cologne the night before as they bumped into each other on the way home, and Ortiz complimented Maddon on the fragrance.

``He told me I smelled nice," Maddon said before the game, ``so I had to tell him what my cologne was. I'm really considering buying that as a gift, in exchange for him not attempting to hit any more balls over the wall for the remainder of the season. I just need some time to go shopping."

Said Ortiz after the game: ``I should have let him buy me some. I've lied before."

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