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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Getting that sinking feeling

The Red Sox brass set sail on John Henry's big boat last night. The owner held a party to celebrate the engagement of his star general manager, Theo Epstein. Nice gesture. Toasts all around, no doubt. A three-hour tour.

And no cheap jokes about tying cement blocks to the ankles of any Sox pitchers and tossing them overboard.

It was undoubtedly nice to get away for a few hours, but there is no safe place for Epstein and Sox management at this moment -- not even on the high seas. The SS Red Sox is sinking fast in the American League. The sun no longer shines on the handsome head of young Theo (wonder if he's signed his much-celebrated contract yet). The computer-geek management style has been thoroughly exposed in the last two days and there's a perfect storm brewing upstairs on Yawkey Way.

The way things are going, Young Theo might don that gorilla suit again, but this time he might need it to hide from an angry Nation of paying customers who want to know why nothing was done at the trade deadline and how you try to win a pennant with no lefty in the bullpen and a collection of dead arms and dead presidents (Mr. Van Buren, I presume) posing as major league pitchers.

Three of the five crucial games against the Yankees have been played, and the numbers are more ghastly than snakes on a plane. The Yankees embarrassed the Sox on national television again yesterday, 13-5, which makes for an aggregate score of 39-20 in the first three games of this make-or-break series. Boston's pitching staff has walked 28 in 27 innings, which qualifies as both embarrassing and unprofessional.

We are now officially in the middle of ``Son of Massacre" weekend. In 1978, it was 42-9 over four games. The Sox were outhit, 67-21, and committed 12 errors while losing four straight at home to the Bombers. The first three games of this series have been equally hideous, and young Theo, who was unavailable after yesterday's carnage, is getting his lunch fed to him by one Brian Cashman as the Sox threaten to suck all the wind out of what's left of summer.

Oh, and is anybody rethinking that Johnny Damon decision now? On a day when Coco Crisp was rested, Damon continued his Big Bang tour through Boston with three more hits, all doubles. Damon is 9 for 18 this weekend, with three doubles, a triple, two homers, eight RBIs, and five runs. Quite a statement.

Henry was not around at the end of the game, but CEO Larry Lucchino, biting his lip, said, ``This is not the best time for me to offer comment. I'm a little agitated, as the average fan is.

``Everybody feels a sense of disappointment about these first three games. I would understand if the manager is keenly disappointed in the way these first three games have gone. It's still a long season. Come and talk to me later."

Manager Terry Francona, ever the company man, will not state the obvious and tell us, ``How am I supposed to beat these guys with this pitching staff?" but he is clearly as frustrated as a lot of Red Sox fans. Yesterday he watched the talented and hard-headed Josh Beckett walk nine (most by a Sox pitcher since Rogelio Moret in 1975) while giving up a career-high nine earned runs in 5 2/3 innings. Beckett's ERA is 5.35 and he looks like he needs to stop listening to Dave Wallace and Al Nipper and go see Dr. Phil. To his credit, Beckett answered all questions and assumed full responsibility for his outing (``unacceptable, brutal").

If you're still scoring at home, the Red Sox have lost 10 of their last 14 games and have gone from four games ahead of the Yankees to 4 1/2 behind since the Fourth of July. They are 4 games behind the White Sox in the wild-card hunt. Forty games remain, but it's not going to matter if the Sox don't go to battle with major league pitchers. Too-good-to-be-traded Manny Delcarmen coughed it up in relief again yesterday and was part of 11 straight balls and two bases-loaded walks in a five-run Yankee sixth.

The last time the Yankees scored in double digits in three games in one Fenway series was in 1927 when the Pinstripes had guys named Ruth and Gehrig in the lineup. The Yankees have batted around five times in three games. One wonders if perhaps even cyberowner Henry has seen enough spread-sheet baseball for one season.

Odd that Henry would be celebrating Epstein's engagement at a time when the honeymoon is officially over for the most popular and bulletproof general manager in Boston sports history.

The cruise is over and so is the free ride for Theo. No disgrace in that, it happens to all of them, but the Sox need a quick turnaround to keep Epstein out of the shark-infested waters that devoured the likes of Lou Gorman and Dan Duquette.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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