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RANGERS 4, RED SOX 1

Texas missteps

Sox tripped up again as Rangers sweep the series

ARLINGTON, Texas -- As the inimitable Yogi Berra once said, "You can see a lot just by observing." And anyone who observed the Red Sox during their lost weekend in Texas saw all too clearly that Terry Francona's batsmen better start hitting, especially in the clutch, before their rapidly diminishing lead in the AL East slips away.

Coming off a loss in which they went 2 for 13 with runners in scoring position, the Sox fell on their bats again last night in a 4-1 loss to the Rangers before 31,538 at The Ballpark in Arlington. The Sox dropped a third straight game for the first time this year as they went hitless in their only four chances with runners in scoring position, dropping their league-worst average in those situations to .222, and effectively stranded all but one other runner who reached base.

As the crowd chanted, "Sweep, sweep, sweep" before a national television audience, the Sox were unable to prevent the Rangers from brooming them in a three-game series for the first time since Aug. 20-22, 1999, also in Texas.

"We came in and they just beat our butts," center fielder Johnny Damon said.

In their futility, the Sox wasted a dazzling start by Tim Wakefield, who rationed the red-hot Rangers only two runs on five hits and a hit batsman over seven innings. Overcoming his personal demons in Texas, where he seldom has fared well, Wakefield departed with a 2.25 ERA after improving the average he has allowed opponents to .196, one of the league's best.

Part of the problem was Wakefield's counterpart, Texas starter R.A. Dickey, who doled out only the one run on four hits and four walks over 8 2/3 innings.

"I just got outpitched," Wakefield said. "He did a great job."

The Rangers nicked Wakefield only when Brad Fullmer lined a triple past Damon in center field and scored on Mark Teixeira's groundout in the fourth inning and when David Dellucci launched a solo shot with two out in the seventh. Wakefield's relief, Alan Embree, allowed the final two Texas runs in the eighth inning when Michael Young tripled and scored on Hank Blalock's sacrifice fly before Alfonso Soriano cranked his 100th career homer.

The Sox, who arrived in Texas with a 4 1/2-game lead over the Yankees, suddenly found themselves clinging to a 1 1/2-game edge, thanks largely to the Rangers.

"The same things we've been doing to teams," manager Terry Francona said, "they did to us this series."

Missing Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon more than ever, the Sox headed for a long late-night flight to Cleveland hoping to respark their sputtering offense. They averaged only three runs in the series, which lasted less than 28 hours from the start of Saturday's twinight doubleheader to the end of last night's loss.

"It was just one of those series where we didn't swing the bats," Kevin Millar said. "We were flat offensively even though we battled both nights."

The Sox mustered their only run with two outs in the ninth inning when Jason Varitek drew a bases-loaded walk off closer Francisco Cordero. The Sox had loaded the bases on a single by Manny Ramirez and walks to Millar and Mark Bellhorn. But Cordero sealed his third save of the weekend by getting Cesar Crespo to fly out and complete Boston's misery.

Wakefield theorized the Sox were suffering from their grueling schedule, which required them to play a day-night doubleheader Thursday at Fenway before a late-night flight to Texas. Then they waited until nearly midnight Friday at The Ballpark before the game was postponed and folded into Saturday's twinighter.

"I think our schedule is really starting to wear on some of the guys here," Wakefield said. "These late arrivals can take a toll on guys. We have to battle through this."

Damon subscribed to the theory in part.

"That first night really did us in," he said. "We came in feeling really good, but we were an older bunch of guys playing two games in a row in back-to-back doubleheaders."

Still, Damon said, the Rangers "pitched great and played with confidence, and they definitely deserved to win."

Ramirez agreed, dismissing the notion that the schedule played a factor.

"You have to give those guys credit," he said. "They're doing everything right. They're pitching good and getting the hits at the right time."

Not the Sox. With a sweet chance to seize some early momentum, they stumbled in the second inning after they loaded the bases as Dickey sandwiched walks to Ramirez and Bellhorn around a one-out single by Millar. The Sox could have used a fast start to help erase the memory of Saturday's double loss. But Dickey got Doug Mirabelli to bounce into a 5-4-3 double play, ending the threat.

"Sometimes you hate to tip your hat because you really want to beat somebody," Francona said. "But he really pitched. He did exactly what you tell pitchers to do. We were at a point where we needed a break and we couldn't catch a break because he kept us off balance so well."

So, the Sox turned toward Cleveland, where Curt Schilling will try to stop the slide.

"We need to show up," Francona said, "and try to find a way to get back on track."

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