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Royals pound staggering Sox one more time

The Red Sox may have crossed into the garbage time portion of their season, but there are still evaluations to be made that will affect decisions made in the offseason. And while owner John W. Henry responded to questions about the team's direction by saying, ``Prior to the free agent season, it wouldn't make sense for us to publicly disclose or discuss our offseason strategy and plans," it is evident the remainder of the season will shape that strategy.

The front office will surely be evaluating Manny Delcarmen, considered one of their future relievers, this morning and probably not very positively after the local product surrendered a three-run homer to Jeff Keppinger in the 12th that powered the Royals to a 10-4 win last night before a crowd that started at 36,402 and likely ended with about a third of that.

``I'm just feeling a little down on myself right now," said Delcarmen. ``I was trying to get it [the pitch] down and away. I thought it was a good pitch and I thought it was going to go foul. You just have to tip your cap to him."

The Sox got strong relief efforts from Keith Foulke and Mike Timlin, whose futures are surely in flux, and from lefty Craig Breslow, who struck out the side in the 11th. But Breslow allowed a leadoff double to David DeJesus in the 12th before exiting for Delcarmen, who, after issuing an intentional walk to Mark Grudzielanek, allowed a double steal, then ran the count to 3 and 1 before Keppinger wrapped his homer around the Pesky Pole.

Manager Terry Francona said it was ``disappointing" Delcarmen didn't hold the runner at second on the double steal, which completely changed the complexion of the inning. ``He has to realize that takes away the double play."

The Royals scored three more times on a bases-loaded triple by Andres Blanco off Javier Lopez, but it was likely nobody was counting at that point.

In evaluating whether Dustin Pedroia is the team's future second baseman, yesterday was a good day. He broke an 0-for-11 streak (4 for 40 overall entering the game) with a single. He then hit his first major league homer in the fourth.

This is perhaps one way the Red Sox are leaning for 2007, feeling they need to get younger. This means it's likely Mark Loretta might be one and done as a Red Sox. Loretta had an All-Star season and with Alex Gonzalez formed one of the best double-play combinations in recent Sox memory.

There's not much they can do with Foulke because they'd have to pay him $5.4 million to go away. It's unlikely Foulke would retire given his physical woes, but last night he teased the Nation by pitching a 1-2-3 ninth.

Josh Beckett's future is not in doubt after signing a three-year, $30 million extension with a fourth-year option for $12 million. Beckett, who pitched eight innings and deserved his 15th win instead of a no-decision last night, is part of the long-term solution.

He's being paid that money because the Sox have determined that after trading Anibal Sanchez, who pitched a no-hitter Wednesday, and National League Rookie of the Year candidate Hanley Ramirez to the Florida Marlins, Beckett must succeed.

Yet, he doesn't always pitch like the stopper he's supposed to be.

Last night, the Royals went out to a 2-0 lead with runs in the second and third innings. But after the Red Sox made Royals starter Luke Hudson throw 41 pitches in the bottom of the fourth to tie, Beckett gave it up in the top of the fifth, allowing two runs to give the Royals a 4-2 lead. He did hold on to a 4-4 tie in the eighth.

Too many times Beckett, who made his 30th start, hasn't been able to keep the status quo or shut the door. There's no question he can be nasty at times. But sometimes, as one scout who watched him last night said, he gets too enamored with his 97-mile-per-hour fastball. Hitters can surely catch up to it, and they do when he throws it so often.

Beckett allowed an RBI single to Joey Gathright in the second with two outs, scoring Ryan Shealy, who had doubled. Then he allowed a one-out double to left field in the third to Esteban German, who scored on Grudzielanek's single.

Down, 2-0, the Sox tied the game in the fourth, but they squandered a chance to break the game open.

After Pedroia's homer cut the margin to one, Hudson walked the bases loaded. But up came another player the Sox must figure out what to do with -- Coco Crisp.

Generally regarded as a disappointing replacement for Johnny Damon, Crisp hit a slow grounder to shortstop on which Blanco threw out David Ortiz at the plate.

Crisp had actually been hitting well recently -- 7 for 15 (.467) in his last four games. The good streak coincided with Crisp switching to a lighter bat belonging to Mike Lowell. The Sox have tried virtually everything to spark a surge in Crisp's play.

While Crisp has played with a sore arm for much of the season, his arm strength is lacking. On Grudzielanek's single to center, the Royals never thought for a second to hold up German, who was running for home. The cutoff man, Pedroia, had to run to short center to take the throw, which makes the cutoff man's throw that much harder to make to nail a runner at the plate.

If this truly is Trot Nixon's last hurrah in Boston, Wily Mo Peña didn't hurt his chances of being the everyday right fielder with a pinch-hit double to the triangle in the seventh, driving in Boston's third run. Kevin Youkilis then hit a sacrifice fly to score Loretta, who had pinch hit for Doug Mirabelli, with the tying run.

It stayed that way until the 12th, when the Royals once again abused Boston's ragtag bullpen.

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