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Tigers halt skid by ending Sox' winning streak

Manny Ramírez made an ill-advised attempt to score in the eighth, getting tagged out by Vance Wilson to put an end to the Sox’ threat.
Manny Ramírez made an ill-advised attempt to score in the eighth, getting tagged out by Vance Wilson to put an end to the Sox’ threat. (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)

No one should presume that the Detroit Tigers are a mere warmup act this week to the Yankees, not when the Tigers arrive in Fenway Park with the best record in baseball, even if burdened with a five-game losing streak.

In case someone wasn't paying attention, Tigers rookie Curtis Granderson jolted them back to reality by driving Josh Beckett's first pitch into the right-field corner for a triple. The first three Tigers scored, two more made it home in the third, and a sellout crowd of 36,392 was left to wonder just when the Beckett they were counting upon to carry them to October plans to show up.

But inadvertently diverting some of the heat off Beckett in last night's 7-4 loss to the Tigers was third base coach DeMarlo Hale, who until last night had remained remarkably controversy-free this season compared with his predecessor, the oft-persecuted Dale Sveum.

``I gotta take that one, I guess," said Hale, whose honeymoon may have ended when his decision to wave home Manny Ramírez during an eighth-inning rally blew up.

The Sox already had one run in and two men on against Tigers rookie reliever Joel Zumaya -- who threw eight pitches at 100 miles per hour or better -- when Mike Lowell lined a single to center field. Ramírez, who was on second, froze and actually broke back toward the bag a half-step when the ball was hit, and thus was only arriving at third when Granderson fielded the ball.

Hale, arm pumping furiously, nonetheless sent Ramírez home, believing that the Tigers would be more concerned with the tying runs moving into scoring position than Ramírez's advance plateward. Indeed, that was the plan, but Carlos Guillen, after receiving Granderson's throw, adjusted and fired to the plate, easily erasing the runner.

``Carlos Guillen," said Tigers catcher Vance Wilson, who applied the tag, ``is the most alert infielder I've ever played with."

Instead of having the bases loaded, one out, and Wily Mo Peña at the plate, the Sox had two on, two out, and Peña swinging and missing at a 102-m.p.h. fastball to end the inning.

``Manny froze, and Dee got real deep, anticipating they would throw to third," manager Terry Francona said. ``But with Manny freezing, even though the throw went [toward] third, it ended up not being enough time.

``I mean, hindsight, we certainly would like to have Wily Mo in there with the bases loaded, but I think that's the first time, in what, 118 games, that someone has even asked me [about Hale]. He has done an incredible job, but sometimes we all try to do a little too much."

Peña said that strike three was the fastest pitch he'd ever seen. Could he envision catching up with the kind of fastball that makes the hair on your neck stand on end?

``One day," he said.

Former Sox reliever Todd Jones needed just seven pitches to put away the Sox in a 1-2-3 ninth, registering his 32d save, one more than Sox rookie Jonathan Papelbon. With the defeat, the Sox not only lost ground to the Yankees, who lead the AL East by two games after beating the Angels, they also fell three behind in the wild card to the White Sox, easy winners over the Royals.

``Manny did the right thing," said Hale, while a couple of players, Kevin Youkilis and Doug Mirabelli, grumbled that the coach was the center of a media crush. ``You gotta freeze because you can't get doubled off. Granderson was playing straight up, the ball was hit to right-center. I thought he had a chance.

``I saw Granderson rounding the ball off, you could see he was throwing to third. [First baseman Sean] Casey's not at the mound to cut off [a throw] to home.

``Hindsight, I look at it, I took a chance, and it didn't work out. But it's a different play. You don't see it that much. You tip your hat."

Beckett, entrusted with the task of getting this potential Hell Week --three against the Tigers, five against the Bombers -- off to a favorable start, instead put the Sox in a 5-0 hole and left after six innings, a threshold he has been able to cross just once in his last eight starts.

His earned run average since the All-Star break? Try 5.74, a good number only if it's the carat size of David Ortiz's bling. In his seven losses this season, 13-game winner Beckett has a 12.00 ERA (44 earned runs in 33 IP).

``We talked about [Jon] Lester [Sunday] trying to get the flow of the game," Francona said, describing Beckett's first-inning woes. ``We're one pitch in, and there's a runner on third and he's pitching out of the stretch.

``You could tell right off the bat he was struggling with command. The worst thing is to lose a game, the second thing is to lose and just crush your bullpen. He ended up gathering himself enough and competing enough to give us six, but a five-run deficit with their bullpen, that's pretty rough duty."

Beckett was beaten by Tigers lefthander Nate Robertson, his former teammate with the Florida Marlins who was drafted four rounds after Beckett in 1999 and made his big-league debut in 2002 because Beckett was on the disabled list.

The usual telltale signs that this was something more than your typical August series were present. Sports Illustrated was here, along with The New York Times and USA Today. But on a night when the Sox went over 2 million in attendance (2,027,312) earlier than at any time in their history (they did it in 56 home dates this season, 57 a year ago), the late arrivals missed the Tigers jumping into the lead. Beckett's first-inning woes were compounded by a bobble by Peña and a wild pitch that could just as easily have been a passed ball charged to Javy Lopez.

The Tigers made it 5-0 in the third on a two-run, opposite-field single off the Monster by Casey.

Robertson, who had Tommy John elbow ligament surgery even before he was drafted and another operation since, gave up three runs in six innings, two coming on Youkilis's 13th home run that drew the Sox within 5-3.

But with Francona saving Mike Timlin for a possible save situation, Wilson, the No. 9 batter in the Tigers' order, whacked a two-run single in the eighth off Rudy Seanez, who had pitched a clean seventh, to give the Tigers a 7-3 advantage.

``Vance Wilson got a huge, huge hit," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. ``We held on. That's a very, very good club over there."

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