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A'S 9, RED SOX 0

Ortiz returning for tests

He cites heart problem again; Red Sox get routed by Oakland

OAKLAND, Calif. -- A season slipping away took another crushing turn last night, even before a ragtag team of Red Sox was beaten, 9-0, by the Oakland Athletics.

About 20 minutes before the first pitch, David Ortiz was scratched from a starting lineup that once again was missing Manny Ramírez. ``He isn't feeling well," said PR man Peter Chase, who had been briefed on Ortiz's condition in the dugout by Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein.

But it wasn't until after the game that manager Terry Francona revealed that Ortiz had experienced another episode involving an apparent irregular heartbeat, the one that had sent him to the hospital overnight during the recent Yankees series.

The team isn't taking any chances, Francona said. Ortiz is flying back to Boston today to be examined by doctors.

``David had a recurrence of the thing he had the other day," said Francona. ``We sat down with him, Theo and I, [trainer] Paul Lessard.

``We honestly think he's OK, [but] we can't play him like that. Can't do it. He's going to go back to Boston [today]. He's going to get a clean bill of health before we let him play again.

``We just can't do it. I know Theo's in agreement with me. We sat in here with him. As much as we want to win, we can't do it. Just want to make sure he's OK."

Francona said Ortiz was not taken to a hospital here last night. Instead, he returned to the team's hotel, and will fly out this morning.

Francona said he became aware of Ortiz's condition about ``an hour, hour and a half" before the game.

``He wanted to play," Francona said. ``Just can't do it."

Red Sox outfielder Wily Mo Peña said that Ortiz had told him he was feeling the symptoms again.

``He told me it was still bothering him," Peña said. ``It's going `boom, boom, boom' and he doesn't know where it's coming from. Everybody's worried, especially him. He was in a good mood today, but then it started to bother him."

Indeed, Ortiz was in great spirits before the game, laughing and joking with Francona and performance enhancement counselor Don Kalkstein about the team's fantasy football league.

``This game is nothing when it comes to somebody's health and somebody's family," reliever Mike Timlin said. ``You don't play games with people's lives. I knew he was in the lineup and then out of it. That's all we know. All I can do is pray for him."

The on-field performance, meanwhile, continued to be the baseball equivalent of coyote ugly, when a baseball team is so unsightly that a manager chews a hole in his own cheek.

The bleeding finally stopped for Francona, after blood thinners left him with mouthfuls of blood for two days. But there was no stanching the wounds for the Sox. They also played without Ramirez, who sat out for the fifth time in seven games on this trip, because of patellar tendinitis in his right knee.

With Jon Lester, who once had been slated to start this game, placed on the disabled list with a sore back, his stand-in, Kason Gabbard, was no match for the Athletics, who scored five runs off Gabbard in 3 1/3 innings, then teed off on reliever Keith Foulke. In the seventh, Frank Thomas and Nick Swisher both hit tape-measure home runs, the 28th of the season for each player. Thomas has worn out the Sox this season: He is batting .417 (10 for 24) against them, with 3 home runs and 11 RBIs in eight games. Thomas's home run was also the 476th of his career.

Thomas had a chance to hit again against in the eighth against Foulke, but was lifted for a pinch hitter, Adam Melhuse. Melhuse promptly crushed another home run off Foulke, increasing the Oakland lead to 9-0.

The Athletics have the best record in the majors (30-13) since the All-Star break and are threatening to make the AL West as much a runaway as the Yankees have made the AL East. The Athletics now lead the West by a season-high 6 1/2 games over the Angels.

The Sox have now lost 10 of their last 12 games and are 8-19 in August to fall seven games behind the idle Bombers in the East, their biggest deficit since they were 7 1/2 back on Aug. 20, 2004. They also fell six games behind the Twins in the wild-card race, with just 31 games to play.

A Bay Area columnist, Dave Albee, who grew up in Maine (Dover-Foxcroft) and tends to keep an eye on the Red Sox, took one look at last night's patchwork lineup and quickly noticed there wasn't a single player facing the Athletics who had been in the lineup when the Sox were eliminated by the White Sox in the playoffs last October.

They did, however, have Carlos Peña, the hometown kid (Haverhill) who once inspired Pedro Martínez to visit Northeastern University to see for himself just how good he was.

That was eight years ago, when Peña, who was born in the Dominican Republic but whose family moved to Haverhill when he was 14, was drafted on the first round by the Texas Rangers. He since has played with the Athletics and Tigers, and in the minor leagues for the Yankees, but last night for the first time put on the uniform he'd always dreamed of wearing.

There have been flashes of promise (27 home runs in 2004) and considerable disappointment (demoted to the minors last season, cut by the Tigers in spring), but last night Peña was grateful just for the chance to be with the team he once idolized.

The Sox, who could ill afford to lose another player, were mortified to see Peña go headfirst into the stands in pursuit of a popup by Thomas in the fourth. Peña emerged without the ball, but in one piece, much to the relief of Francona.

But given that reprieve, Thomas drew a walk to force in a run, reliever Bryan Corey having inherited a bases-loaded mess from Gabbard.

Gabbard was touched for a couple of runs in the third when Mark Ellis walked and Bobby Kielty doubled him home, Kielty then coming around on a double by Jay Payton.

The Athletics made it 3-0 on singles by Mark Ellis, Jason Kendall, and Kielty. After Milton Bradley singled to load the bases, Francona replaced Gabbard with Corey, who after losing Thomas on a full count gave up a sacrifice fly to Payton to make it 5-0.

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