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Sox can't get handle on it

Sloppy play enables Jays to run away

The ball pops out of the glove of hard-charging Wily Mo Peña, fueling a four-run Jays rally. (JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF)

If the Red Sox' 7-3 loss to Toronto Monday was a letdown after the euphoria of the Yankee series, then last night's 10-3 decision to the Blue Jays could only be summed up in one word: awful.

Toronto starter Roy Halladay was his usual reliable self over eight innings (3 runs, 5 hits, 10 strikeouts, no walks). But the Sox made his work infinitely easier by committing four errors.

"This is a long season and nobody likes to lose," said Sox manager Terry Francona. "But it's inevitable that you lose games. When you do lose you need to bounce back and play better the next night, and if that doesn't happen, then you play better the next night. That's the whole idea.

"That's why you like to have good pitching, because when you lose a game or two in a row, you're throwing out a good pitcher."

The Sox believe they have two such pitchers ready for games in Baltimore tonight and tomorrow in Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett. But Julian Tavarez, the team's No. 5 starter, gave them no chance to win last night, allowing six runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings.

Tavarez blamed himself for the loss.

"I can do better than that," he said. "We scored three runs against one of the best pitchers in the game and I couldn't keep it close. That's my fault."

The same pitching matchup last week in Toronto resulted in a 5-3 Red Sox win. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons might have erred in removing Halladay in the eighth inning then, but he didn't make the same mistake twice.

He allowed Halladay to throw 112 pitches and pitch through the eighth with a seven-run lead. The Red Sox had bad swings and bad at-bats against Halladay, some coming from Jason Varitek, who fanned three times, and Wily Mo Peña, who struck out twice.

"We didn't play well," said shortstop Julio Lugo, who managed two hits and two steals and was one of the Sox' bright spots. "We didn't play well in the field. You can't give them extra outs, and Halladay pitched a very good game. We've got to be better than we were tonight."

Francona started two reserves -- Pena, who spelled the injured Coco Crisp, and Eric Hinske, who filled in at first for Kevin Youkilis. Both players, not known for their defense, made errors.

Pena dropped Adam Lind's two-out liner in the sixth inning, an out that would have kept the Sox' deficit at a manageable 6-3.

Instead, the drop allowed one run to score and set up three to follow.

Vernon Wells (4 hits, 4 runs, 3 RBIs) drove home two with a single, stole second and moved to third on Jason Varitek's throwing error, and scored on a Frank Thomas single.

That was that.

The Sox have committed 15 errors in 19 games. In the offseason, they decided to give up a little defense in order to go with Lugo. As it turns out, Lugo has been the least of their problems as he has made only one error in 83 chances.

Another strange error came courtesy of Manny Ramírez who barehanded Lyle Overbay's double off the top of the scoreboard in the fifth. What came out of his hand is anyone's guess. The ball was thrown to the ground and trickled to center field, where second baseman Dustin Pedroia finally retrieved it as two runs scored.

Ramírez was asked about what happened, but he kept walking past the questioner, pretending not to hear. Francona said he thought Ramírez was going to throw the ball in and then decided to hold up, but the ball squirted out of his hand, which is why it looked so strange.

Hinske seemed to be too aggressive in trying to field an Overbay grounder in the third that was heading toward Pedroia. The error resulted in another run scoring in the three-run inning.

Although the Sox scored three times off Halladay -- one coming on Mike Lowell's homer in the fourth, which extended his hitting streak to 10 games -- the Jays ace kept getting better and better.

"I felt my curveball was a lot better than it's been all year," Halladay said. "I was able to use it effectively and throw it a lot more often.

"Other than a pitch to Lowell and one to Hinske [who singled in a run in the third], I felt good from the beginning. Lugo got on base twice, and when a guy like that gets on base and gets into scoring position, that makes it tough."

Even though he got the big lead, Halladay kept the same strategy.

"It's so important to be aggressive and challenge guys, especially this lineup in this park, because you're never out of the game here," he said.

Francona and others thought Halladay expanded the strike zone after he established the lower part of the plate with his stuff. The expansion of the strike zone made it tougher for the Sox batters to solve him. Halladay struck out the side in the seventh.

After Wells's solo homer in the first, the Sox tied the game in the bottom of the inning on David Ortiz's single, which scored Lugo (single, steal).

In the third, the lead was cut to 4-2 on Hinske's single to right after Lugo had beaten out an infield hit and stolen second.