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Loaded for bare

Red Sox strand 13, come up empty in loss to Orioles

No one in the dugout cringed. No one suffered that spontaneous reaction when the air goes out in a rush. But that was the experience in the stands, the surprise audible among the 37,039 who packed Fenway Park last night.

Even as the ball ripped off J.D. Drew's bat into the glove of a leaping Miguel Tejada in the seventh inning, the "what if" moment in an evening full of them, Julio Lugo said no one wearing a Red Sox uniform felt such disappointment.

Whether he can speak for his teammates or not, the reality can't be challenged. It is a long season. Yet an unlucky 13 men left on base has got to frustrate the Red Sox just a little.

Having left the bases loaded in the first and second innings, the Sox got another chance to make good on a promising situation in the seventh. But neither Drew nor Alex Cora could make the right contact at the right moment, sending the Sox to a 6-3 loss in their return from a trip on which they tore through Minnesota and Toronto, going 5-1.

"Couldn't get one big hit to get us over the top," manager Terry Francona said. "They extend the lead. We finally get an opportunity. We got J.D. against [reliever Chad] Bradford and he took one of the prettiest swings you'll ever see. If that ball goes past Tejada, it probably goes all the way to the wall. On a night where we needed one hit, we couldn't get it."

The Red Sox didn't get a repeat of the starting pitching performances they have come to expect -- a 1.55 ERA the last six games -- as Julian Tavarez (1-4, 6.60 ERA) gave up five runs (four earned) in five innings. But it was a serviceable outing from the No. 5 starter. And it wasn't as if the Red Sox didn't have base runners. They walked eight times and had 10 hits. But the Sox were 3 for 12 with runners in scoring position.

"They did," Tavarez said of the Orioles getting two-out hits with men on base. "We don't. That's how it is."

Despite Tavarez's assertion that he'd like to pitch as soon as possible, hoping for a good outing that might make sleeping a little easier, he'll have to wait his turn in the rotation.

Not so for the offense, which gets a crack at Steve Trachsel (1-3, 3.70) at 1:05 p.m. today.

Against a trio of relievers in the seventh, the Red Sox had three chances with the bases loaded and one out. Although Jason Varitek walked to force in Manny Ramírez, neither of the two pinch hitters -- Drew for defensive goat Wily Mo Peña and Cora for Dustin Pedroia -- could get a run home, with Cora flying to center.

"We had chances early in the game," Cora said. "We didn't take advantage, and the kid did a good job of surviving. He made pitches when he had to. That's why he won the game."

Brian Burres (1-1) was no longer in the game by the time the seventh rolled around -- he lasted five innings, giving up two runs on seven hits and five walks -- but the starter had wiggled out of jams in the first two innings. In the first, David Ortiz's walk, plus singles to left by Ramírez and Kevin Youkilis, produced an opportunity for Mike Lowell, who struck out looking on a 2-and-2 pitch that gave him enough pause to warrant an impassioned conversation with home plate umpire Jim Reynolds.

"You know, we did actually get a couple of hits, but we hit them so hard in left field we couldn't score," Francona said. "Sometimes the left-field wall here giveth, but it taketh away."

Two runs came home in the second (Varitek doubled and scored on Lugo's double, and Lugo came home on a bases-loaded walk to Ramírez), but Youkilis sent a fly ball to center with the bases full, ending the inning with the score 2-2.

Tavarez allowed two in the first on doubles to Nick Markakis and Ramon Hernandez and a single by Aubrey Huff, and three in the fifth on singles by Markakis and Tejada, a ground-rule double by Melvin Mora, and an error by Peña on a fly ball off the bat of Jay Gibbons.

Those last two? Not Peña's finest hour in right field, where the slugger was substituting for Drew. The double was a tough-luck shot over his head, bouncing into the bullpen, but the second slipped under the charging Peña's glove -- after, he said, he lost it in the lights.

Though the misplays didn't help, in the end, it was the 13 LOB that doomed the Red Sox to only their second loss in nine games.

"We just couldn't convert," Lugo said. "We had chances to get them. We just couldn't get our hits together. We got a lot of people on base, we just couldn't come out with that big hit."