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DEVIL RAYS 5, RED SOX 4

Red Sox thrown for a loss

Roberts nailed at plate in ninth

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- As Derek Lowe struggled early in the season, he looked for someone to join him in a stepped-up workout program. He needed someone as eager to improve as he was.

Enter Bronson Arroyo.

"He knew Pedro [Martinez] and [Curt] Schilling weren't going to do it," Arroyo said. "So I was the guy."

Together, they began building strength as they tried to make the second half of their seasons more memorable than the first. And the plan seemed to pay dividends as both generally pitched better and deeper into games than they had at times early in the season.

Yet all the free weights in the world wouldn't have helped Arroyo last night after he worked into the seventh inning with a 4-1 lead against the Devil Rays. Arroyo twice shook off signs from catcher Jason Varitek to fire pitches low and away to Toby Hall on a 1-2 count with no outs and the bases loaded. Arroyo insisted on throwing a sinking fastball, and he paid the price as Hall crushed the misplaced heater for a decisive grand slam as the Rays stunned the Red Sox, 5-4, before 18,133 at Tropicana Field.

"It's real frustrating," Arroyo said. "Four to one, that's a plenty comfortable lead these guys gave me, but in a blink of an eye [the Rays] got the lead."

Hall's shot, which snapped an 0-for-18 slump, prevented the Sox from sweeping their first three-game road series since April 23-25 in the Bronx.

"It was a tough loss," manager Terry Francona said. "We had a chance to really have a great series, not a good one."

Dropping to 4-4 on their 11-game road trip, the longest of the season, the Sox lurched toward trouble when Arroyo allowed a single to Jose Cruz leading off the seventh and walked Tino Martinez on a 3-2 pitch. With no outs, Julio Lugo hit a potential double-play ball toward third baseman Kevin Youkilis, but the ball took a bad hop, allowing Lugo to reach on an error and clearing the way for Hall's jolt.

"It just jumped up and hit me in the thumb," Youkilis said. "I tried to knock it down or barehand it, but it ate me up."

Still, the Sox had a couple of prime chances in the ninth. The first went for naught when Dave Roberts, running for Kevin Millar, tried to score from second base with no outs after Doug Mientkiewicz lined a single to center. The fleet Roberts was gunned down easily on a one-hop strike by Rocco Baldelli.

"With that kind of speed, I'm pretty much sending him on anything to that part of the field," said third base coach Dale Sveum.

Roberts, trying to score his first run for the Sox, initially was optimistic.

"I thought we had a shot," he said. "Unfortunately, it was a big out."

Roberts said he rarely has been thrown out so easily.

"To make a throw like that, it's pretty impressive," he said. "I was pretty surprised."

Hall, the Tampa Bay catcher, agreed.

"Probably the best throw I've seen all year," Hall said. "Perfect throw. [Roberts] is the fastest guy on the field."

Even after Baldelli's throw, the Sox had a chance. But they also stranded Mientkiewicz, who took second on the throw to the plate, as Bill Mueller moved him to third with a ground out and -- after Gabe Kapler was hit with a pitch -- Johnny Damon popped out to first baseman Martinez to end the game.

"I feel like this loss is my responsibility," said Damon, who went 0 for 5. "He gave me a good pitch to drive, and I hit it a mile up."

The loss almost seemed surreal for the Sox.

"I thought we were going to win that game until the ball hit Martinez's glove," Francona said. "I think everybody in our dugout did, too."

By then, though, Arroyo was in the clubhouse, analyzing where things went wrong. Despite lacking his best breaking stuff, he managed to overcome a first-inning RBI single by Baldelli and carry the Sox into the seventh. He threw only 88 pitches through six innings, which contributed to Francona's decision to stick with him after the first two Tampa Bay batters reached in the seventh. The manager said he also stuck with Arroyo against Hall because he had just induced the potential double-play ball from Lugo.

"He was pitching good," Francona said. "He's a good pitcher and he's getting better. He's proven he deserves to be in those situations."

Varitek supported Arroyo's decision to twice shake him off, saying Hall guessed the pitch Arroyo threw and took advantage of its poor location.

"He and I would like that pitch back," Varitek said, "but [Hall] looked in the right place at the right time."

The Sox were paced at the plate by Mueller, who launched a solo homer and doubled home a run. Manny Ramirez also doubled in a run before Millar knocked him in with a sacrifice fly.

The Sox departed Tampa Bay after the game for a three-game series beginning tomorrow night in Detroit, where Lowe will try to get the team back on track.

"It's important we keep playing like we are," Varitek said. "We did a lot of things right tonight. We just had one bad pitch get away from us."

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