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Halladay outing cut short by Sox outburst

Neither Dustin Pedroia nor Roy Halladay cared to watch this fourth-inning encounter. Halladay was roughed up by Boston's bats, surrendering five earned runs in five innings. Neither Dustin Pedroia nor Roy Halladay cared to watch this fourth-inning encounter. Halladay was roughed up by Boston's bats, surrendering five earned runs in five innings. (JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF)

At times, Toronto pitcher Roy Halladay's 12-to-6 curveball can be a devastating pitch, one he can throw for strikes early in the count, or for outs later on.

Last night, with two runners on in the first inning, Halladay tried to spin one by Manny Ramírez on a 1-and-2 count, but the pitch didn't quite make it to 6.

The ball stayed up just enough for the Red Sox slugger to swat it into the left-field corner for an RBI double, scoring the second of Boston's four first-inning runs, the beginning of a long night for Halladay. The Blue Jays ace surrendered five earned runs in five innings of a 7-4 Sox win.

"More than anything, it's just location," the four-time All-Star said of his curve. "I think the movement is better. It's just been harder for me to either get it down where I want it or ahead early in the count, throwing it for a quality strike."

After a rough first two innings -- in which he threw 71 pitches -- Halladay finally got into a groove and didn't allow another run. But Boston's bats had already done their damage.

"The first couple innings, he wasn't locating the ball. He couldn't do much with his breaking ball," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, who was ejected by first base umpire John Hirschbeck in the seventh inning for arguing the call when Julio Lugo reached on an error. "Then he settled in a little bit.

"But if you're not making good pitches, it's such a good hitting team, they're going to get you."

Besides hitting well, the Red Sox love to work deep in counts. Seven of the 15 batters Halladay faced in his first two innings saw five pitches or more.

"When you get in some of those at-bats where you're throwing eight, nine, 10 pitches, it makes it a lot tougher," Halladay said. "When you do make quality pitches and they're fouled off, you've got to do it again . . . It wasn't hard to throw strikes, but some of those long at-bats really got to me."

This is the second straight time the Sox have gotten to Halladay, the first being a more painful evening in May, when Boston pounded him for seven runs in five innings, and he went on the disabled list the next day with appendicitis.

He had an appendectomy, missing three weeks. The 2003 Cy Young winner came back strong, but has faltered in his last four starts, during which he is 2-2 with a 6.85 ERA.

But Halladay said he is in perfect health. The reason for his recent struggles is that more teams are familiar with him. He is in his ninth full season in the majors -- all with the Blue Jays.

"I think it's just a matter of you start building up innings over time, and I think you start seeing a lot of teams and it makes it sometimes a little bit tougher because they know what you're doing," said Halladay, who issued a season-high four walks last night. "You have to be a little bit better, and sometimes more creative."

This year, Halladay has been getting creative by tinkering with his cut fastball, which he throws in the high 80s to low 90s. He just started using his third different grip on the pitch this season, and threw it with solid results last night.

"I feel a lot better with what we've been doing," Halladay said. "The action is a lot better. The location is a lot better. I felt like that's one positive form of [last night] was I like the way that pitch was."

There wasn't much to like, as Halladay (10-4) still is struggling to regain his elite form. His ERA rose to 4.66, well above any mark he has posted in a full year since 2000.

"I feel good. There's no stuff physically [wrong]," Halladay said.

"You're always trying to figure out ways to improve things, and sometimes that involves a little bit of change."