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ORIOLES 12, RED SOX 7

Bad start, worse finish for Red Sox

Counting on the pitcher with the best winning percentage in Red Sox history turned out to be a dangerous proposition last night. Trying to improve on his unparalleled percentage of .779 (102-29), Pedro Martinez instead committed a nearly unprecedented act of personal futility, putting the Sox in peril as he suffered one of the worst poundings of his storied career.

With Martinez long gone after departing amid a 7-7 deadlock in the fifth inning, the Sox were left to slog it out until the Orioles struck for five runs in the 11th to steal a 12-7 victory before 35,271 as baseball returned to Fenway Park after two straight rainouts. The collapse unfolded as the Sox tried to gain some traction before they open a four-game showdown against the Yankees in the Fens tonight.

"That last inning just got away from us," Johnny Damon said, a week after the Orioles stunned the Sox, 3-2, in 13 innings in Baltimore. "They've got our number now in close games and we have to change that."

Miguel Tejada stunned the Sox as he opened the 11th by homering over the Green Monster on a 2-and-2 hanging curve from Bronson Arroyo, the sixth reliever trying to pick up Martinez after the ace's disappointing start.

"That was just a really bad 2-and-2 pitch to Tejada," Arroyo said, "and things went downhill from there."

Arroyo, who is scheduled to start against the Yankees Monday and had not pitched for six days, then surrendered a single to Rafael Palmeiro and a run-scoring triple to Jay Gibbons before Baltimore loaded the bases on Bill Mueller's second error of the game.

"It was a horrible outing for me," Arroyo said. "It was unfortunate I let down a lot of guys in the bullpen who came out and did the job [from the sixth inning through the 10th]."

With Arroyo on the ropes, Sox manager Terry Francona summoned lefthander Phil Seibel, newly called up from Triple A Pawtucket, to extinguish the fire. No such luck. In his major league debut, Seibel induced a grounder by Larry Bigbie that first baseman Kevin Millar booted to clear the way for a run. Then Seibel walked in another run, prompting Francona to yank him as well. On came Frank Castillo, Boston's ninth pitcher of the game, who finally ended the misery by getting Tejada to bounce into a double play.

"Thank God Tejada hit into the double play," Damon said, "or we might still be out there."

Martinez's rough outing, which helped force extra innings, was the last thing the Sox needed after three days of rest seemed to provide their bedraggled relief corps the respite it badly needed. The extended affair marked the third time the Sox have played into extra innings in their first eight games, and the unexpected workload taxed the pen yet again on the eve of the Yankee series.

Still, Francona insisted the pen would be fine.

"I imagine we will have everybody available [tonight]," he said. "We're OK."

The 4-hour-28-minute game dragged into the night partly because the Sox' lineup went all but silent after striking for seven runs in the first four innings against Sidney Ponson. Until the 10th inning, only one Sox runner reached second base after the fourth, when Millar doubled leading off the fifth and went no farther.

The Sox had a prime opportunity to win it in the 10th when Mueller scorched a two-out, bases-loaded shot to the warning track in left-center, but center fielder Luis Matos made a spectacular, sprinting catch at the scoreboard to foil the rally. The Sox had loaded the bases when Gabe Kapler singled, Mark Bellhorn walked, and Damon was hit by a pitch.

"That was heartbreaking," said Francona, who had begun bounding out of the dugout to celebrate. "I think everybody in the ballpark was thinking that game was over, including myself."

Long before the final twist, a sellout crowd watched Martinez's ERA soar to 4.82 from 1.98 over his five difficult innings. Unable to master his trademark command, the ace surrendered the seven runs on eight hits and four walks before he unceremoniously departed. Just five days earlier, Martinez appeared to have regained his form when he rationed the Blue Jays a lone run over 7 2/3 innings. But last night he looked more like he did when the Orioles hammered him for 10 runs at Fenway last April in the worst outing of his career.

As a measure of Martinez's woes, the 10-run thrashing ranks as the only time he has surrendered more than seven earned runs in his 291 career starts. Other than last night, he had been tagged for seven earned runs only five times, most recently April 1, 2002, vs. the Blue Jays at Fenway.

Martinez suffered the cruelest blow last night when his pal, David Segui, rocked him for a three-run homer in the fifth, lifting the Orioles out of a 7-4 hole. Martinez also allowed Brian Roberts to homer leading off the game and got dinged for three more runs between the bookend homers.

"I don't think he had a real good feel [for his pitches]," catcher Jason Varitek said. "That was the main thing, his location was off."

Martinez, who was not available to comment afterward, escaped with a no-decision thanks to a similar beating the Sox applied to Ponson. Led by Mueller, who popped a three-run homer, and Damon, who knocked in three runs with a pair of singles, the Sox seized the 7-4 lead before Segui countered against Martinez.

Francona decided against exposing Martinez to further abuse by sending him to the shower after 103 pitches.

"I thought he had better stuff last Saturday," Francona said. "I still have confidence that even when he doesn't have his `A' game he's still a pretty good pitcher. I will be very excited to send him out on his next outing."

In the ace's absence, Mark Malaska and Scott Williamson each pitched a scoreless inning before Mike Timlin and Keith Foulke combined to hold off the Orioles in the eighth. Foulke, who retired the only batter he faced in the eighth with the go-ahead run on third base, also dispatched the Birds in the ninth.

Foulke yielded to Alan Embree, who handled matters in the 10th before the game got away from the Sox in the 11th. Afterward, they turned their sights to the Yankees.

"We have to do what this team has always done in the past," Varitek said. "We have to shake off the bad and start back over [tonight]."

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