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A'S 7, RED SOX 2

Repeat sweep

Sox limp home after dropping sixth in a row

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Red Sox have been through too much during this misbegotten journey to say they are returning home with trepidation.

But beyond the pleasure of once again sleeping in their own beds, the comforts of home may not be all they're cracked up to be for the Sox, not when they're coming home shorn of whatever hope remained that they'd extend another baseball summer into October.

``Oh yeah, they'll be welcoming us with open arms," manager Terry Francona said sardonically of the reception that awaits the staggered Sox when they reappear at the Fens tonight, losers of their last six games and seven of nine on this West Coast trip that eliminated them in every way but mathematically from the postseason chase.

But surely, someone said to Kevin Youkilis after yesterday afternoon's 7-2 beating at the hands of the Oakland Athletics, who swept the Sox just as decisively as the Seattle Mariners did over the weekend, their fans will understand just how crippled this team has become. The casualties increased by one yesterday when center fielder Coco Crisp was a late scratch from the lineup because of a strained left shoulder still smarting from his diving catch the night before, leaving Francona with just one position player on the bench (catcher Javy Lopez) and a lineup with just four position players who were in Sox uniforms when the season began.

Youkilis sounded anything but sure.

``Are you dealing with rational people?" said the infielder by trade, the left fielder again by necessity. ``I don't know, they're Red Sox fans. If they want to boo, what are you going to do?

``People boo players when they come into a game trying to win a game. Some people will, some people won't. It depends on the radio, and what they're saying. Even our parking lot attendants listen to the radio."

Neither fans nor players will be eager to hear the summation of a trip in which the Sox, already down their captain, Jason Varitek, and key contributors Trot Nixon, Alex Gonzalez, and Tim Wakefield, lost David Ortiz, Manny Ramírez, Wily Mo Peña, rookie pitcher Jon Lester, and yesterday Crisp, who is scheduled to be examined by doctors in Boston today.

``I went out there to swing and it felt a little funky," said Crisp, who said it wasn't until the day after he robbed Jay Payton of a hit Tuesday night that his left shoulder began to hurt.

``It's sore to the touch, but it's more during movement. I won't be able to wash the right side of my back.

``But I don't think it will be anything more than day-to-day."

The Sox batted just .198 (58 for 293) in the nine games while scoring just 19 runs. They began the trip by going 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position in Anaheim, Calif., and ended it by going 1 for 12 again yesterday, a day they managed to accumulate 10 hits, after nine straight games in which they failed to reach double digits. Overall, they were just 8 for 59, a .136 average, with runners in scoring position.

The pitchers fared no better, posting a 5.23 ERA (43 runs in 74 innings on the trip).

``With the situation we're in right now and what we've been going through, this was definitely a day this team needed me to step up, and I didn't," said Curt Schilling, who needed to face just two batters before he whiffed Nick Swisher to become just the 14th pitcher in major league history to record 3,000 strikeouts, but was gone with one out in the sixth after a yield of six runs on 11 hits.

``I'm very proud to achieve it," said Schilling, who was clocked for home runs by Bobby Kielty and Mark Ellis, and was chased after Ellis's triple and Jason Kendall's single in the sixth, ``but going through what we're going through and doing what I did today kind of sucks a lot of the enjoyment out of it, if not all of it."

The Red Sox, meanwhile, could do little with ace lefthander Barry Zito, who took a novel approach in blocking out the potential distraction of facing Schilling with history in the balance.

``Just turn around the name in your head," said Zito, who allowed the Sox just a run on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings for his 15th win for the Athletics, winners of 15 of their last 19 while blowing open the American League West. ``I imagined I was facing `Burt Snelling.' "

With the lineup the Sox are putting on the field these days, they'd have their hands full beating Burt Snelling, too. They are eight games behind the Yankees in the AL East after going 8-21 this month with one day left, and New York splitting a doubleheader with Detroit yesterday. With just 29 games to be played, and even with the return of Varitek and Nixon perhaps as soon as the weekend, that's too much ground to make up.

``You can't think that way as a ballplayer," Youkilis said of succumbing to the reality that the Sox simply have run out of bodies, and time. ``You're a weak individual if little things get to you and you start saying the reason I wasn't doing good was the team was failing.

``That's [bull]. At some point you've got to step up and be a man in your life, assume responsibility, and do your job. Every guy on that field right now is playing 100 percent."

And coming up empty.

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