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BLUE JAYS 4, RED SOX 3

Red Sox limp home with loss

TORONTO -- They've played in St. Louis, Fort Myers, Fla.; Sarasota, Fla.; Jupiter, Fla.; Dunedin, Fla.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; St. Petersburg, Fla.; Bradenton, Fla.; Vero Beach, Fla.; Clearwater, Fla.; Tampa, Phoenix, New York, and Toronto since you saw them last, a span of 38 games.

Today, the Red Sox come home as defending world champions, set to receive their World Series rings at 2:15 p.m. in plain view of the New York Yankees. They also come home a 2-4 club, having lost two of three to both the Yankees and Blue Jays, most recently a 4-3, ninth-inning defeat yesterday before 22,845 at the Rogers Centre. Up until yesterday the Sox had not lost a series to the Blue Jays since June 1, 2003, a span of nine meetings (6-0-3).

It has been an exhausting six-game beginning to the season for the Sox, who lost in the ninth inning Tuesday at Yankee Stadium, won in the ninth inning Wednesday, came within a Blue Jays hit of losing in the ninth inning Friday in a game they led by three runs entering the inning, and lost in the ninth yesterday.

"We need to get back home," said Kevin Millar. "It feels like we've been on the road since October. We need to get back there."

Mike Timlin took the loss, though his only mistake was a pitch up and away to Orlando Hudson in the ninth. Hudson lined a double that one-hopped off the left-center-field wall, scoring Reed Johnson from first.

"I came out, missed my spot, dropped the game," said Timlin, who was probably excessively difficult on himself. "I'm having a little problem there. I feel I let the team down."

In actuality Johnson wouldn't have been on base to begin with had Mark Bellhorn not fallen victim to the stadium's new FieldTurf.

"The turf is slippery," said Bellhorn, who fielded Johnson's one-out grounder without needing to dive but couldn't plant and throw until it was too late. "I got my foot caught, hooked into the turf. My foot spun a little bit."

The play was liberally scored a hit, though Bellhorn said he would have made it had he not slipped.

The Sox, trailing, 3-1, by the fifth inning, were in a tie in the ninth only because of Edgar Renteria's clutch single on a 2-and-2 count with two on and two out in the top half. Closer Miguel Batista threw a 96-mile-per-hour fastball well up and in to Renteria two pitches earlier, leading Renteria to sit fastball up and away, which is what he got.

"If it was there, I would get my hit, or he gets me," Renteria said. "The at-bats before I tried to do too much. [In the ninth] I tried to play the game right."

The hit lifted his average to just .167 (4 for 24) in this young season, rather similar to the 3 for 25 that Orlando Cabrera began his Red Sox career with last July.

"It was nice to see Edgar come through," said Brad Mills, who completed his four-game managerial stint 2-2, though those four games still count toward Terry Francona's record. "Edgar needed that. The ballclub needed that."

Matt Clement was left with his second no-decision in what was a prototypical Clement outing. He was quality (six innings, three earned runs), but he labored. He fell behind eight of the first nine batters he faced, went to 10 three-ball counts, and needed 108 pitches to complete those six innings. He allowed as many Jays to reach base via walk (five) and hit batsman (one) as he did by hits (six).

"To make it work, I've got to be better with my command," said Clement, who has walked eight and hit two batters in 10 1/3 innings in the regular season after walking just two in 18 spring training innings.

Clement did strike out six, five of them on sliders, including a few particularly nasty. Two bounced in the dirt, one to Hudson in the first and another to Greg Myers in the second. In fact, Clement threw Myers a 3-2 dirt-eating slider, displaying his confidence in that pitch in a full-count situation. "I don't think he's trying to throw that in the dirt," catcher Jason Varitek said. "But he definitely has the confidence to throw that pitch." He was behind a little more today than the other day. But he threw really good, really good."

However, Clement must avoid innings like the fourth, when he loaded the bases in vintage Clement fashion, hitting the leadoff man, allowing a single, then walking a batter. He managed to allow just one run, thanks to a Myers double play ball and a Russ Adams strikeout.

He allowed the two other runs in the fifth, when Toronto put together two singles and a walk. Eric Hinske then singled to right, scoring two. But Clement was out of the inning without throwing another pitch. Hinske got hung up between first and second, and Corey Koskie attempted to score from first. He was thrown out on a 9-2-3-2 putout.

The loss was Clement's until Timlin, who pitched a perfect eighth, came out for the ninth. "I completely missed a spot," Timlin said. "Tek was sitting inside. I feel bad today because the guys battled back. Edgar came up with a big base hit."

Now they go home, to Fenway, where all will be set aside, if not forgotten.

"I'm glad we turn this thing over to Terry," Mills said.

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