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All's not well for Red Sox and Wells

Lefthander sprains foot in setback against Orioles

David Wells walked back into the Red Sox clubhouse at 11:02 last night, his visit to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center having lasted about as long as his appearance at Fenway Park.

The 41-year-old lefthander walked with a rather unavoidable limp, exacerbated by the boot that concealed his right foot and lower half of his leg. Wells didn't say anything. When called twice by name by a media member, he didn't so much as turn. Instead, he walked into a back room, then went up to the team lounge to eat.

Manager Terry Francona called Wells's injury a sprained foot, but that diagnosis was relayed by the manager before the pitcher's hospital visit.

Wells left the game after just 3 2/3 innings, during which he yielded six runs, all earned, on eight hits and a walk, taking the loss in the Sox' lackluster 8-4 defeat at Oriole hands before 35,003 at Fenway Park. The 69 pitches he threw were the fewest thrown by any Red Sox starter through 20 games this season, and his 3 2/3 innings also marked the shortest stint by a Sox starter this year.

Wells was hurt on Javy Lopez's leadoff single in the fourth inning. He had joked last Wednesday, after deftly fielding a bunt in Baltimore, that "the old dog can still field his position." Well, this time the old dog took a few steps toward the grounder, allowed it to pass him, then began to limp. A convoy of Sox personnel visited the mound, including Francona and trainer Jim Rowe, but Wells continued to pitch. And labor.

"He wanted a second to let it settle down and he was ready to go," Francona said.

The next batter, B.J. Surhoff, pounded an 0-and-2 fastball that was up and in and, at 88 miles per hour, asking to be crushed. The ball landed into Row 1 of the seats in right, upping Baltimore's lead to 5-2.

"I think he was battling anyway," catcher Jason Varitek said, when asked how much the pain in Well's foot -- the foot on which he lands -- affected the location of that pitch. "That didn't help."

Wells recorded a ground out, then Chris Gomez singled. Wells recorded another ground out, then Brian Roberts singled. That was enough for Francona.

"I think he was having a tough time," Francona said.

A bullpen coalition -- Blaine Neal, Matt Mantei, Alan Embree, and John Halama -- spelled Wells effectively, limiting the Orioles to two runs, one earned, in 5 1/3 innings. Neal, who hadn't pitched more than one inning in any of his appearances this year, went 2 1/3, allowing one run. Embree struck out four in 1 1/3. Mantei felt the best he's felt about himself this season in his two-thirds of an inning, though he, too, left the game and headed straight for the X-ray machine.

Mantei turned his left ankle backing up third in the seventh inning. He came out right away, but Francona said, "If the game was tied, we probably would have left Mantei in."

That's a way of saying he's far less of a concern than Wells.

"It's a little tender on that ligament on the outside of the ankle," said Mantei, who said an X-ray revealed no damage. "It's an ankle I've sprained 10 times in my life. I'd rather err on the side of precaution."

Wells, meanwhile, entered the game riding a 15-inning scoreless streak, but that came to a screeching halt when the Orioles scored one in the first, two in the second, and three in the fourth. His ERA, a relatively svelte 3.51 coming in, swelled to 4.91.

His defense didn't give him much of a hand. The Sox, with only four starters in their usual spots, made two errors.

Manny Ramirez needed a night off, but Francona didn't want to lose the slugger's bat, so Ramirez was the designated hitter. Kevin Millar was in left field for the first time this season, and David Ortiz at first base for the first time in 2005. Ramon Vazquez played third for the sixth time in seven games for the ailing Bill Mueller, and Jay Payton played for Trot Nixon against lefthander Bruce Chen.

Ortiz made a second-inning error, misplaying a Geronimo Gil grounder. Millar also had an adventure, coming in on a Brian Roberts liner in the sixth that wound up being a double.

Jason Varitek also made an error, errantly attempting to pick Luis Matos off third base in the eighth inning. The ball skipped into left field, allowing Matos to score without the Orioles getting a hit in the inning. He'd walked, stolen second, then stolen third.

Varitek did homer in the game, his fifth, but it was a solo shot and didn't do much to chip into Baltimore's lead.

The captain, despite the dour postgame mood, fought off a reporter's suggestion that the pitching staff is hobbled, with Curt Schilling underperforming, Wells hurt, and Mantei possibly hurt.

"We don't hit panic buttons around here," Varitek said. "Blaine Neal did an excellent job. We've got to rely on all our guys."

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