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ROYALS 8, RED SOX 4

Royally peeved

Red Sox lose their grip and can't finish off a sweep of Kansas City

Sometimes the class clown aces the final exam. Or the perky cheerleader falls for the angry Goth guy. Or, just when it seems to defy all logic, the Red Sox lose a game everyone expects them to win.

Sometimes bad things happen to good teams. Even to the Sox. Smack dab on Mother's Day.

So it was that hundreds of families circled the emerald lawn in the Fens yesterday for a Mother's Day stroll in the park to the beat of Paul Simon's "Mother and Child Reunion." After all, it turned out to be a "strange and mournful day" on Yawkey Way.

Strange because the Sox appeared perfectly poised to complete a three-game sweep of the hapless Royals after Bill Mueller socked a two-run homer to stake Derek Lowe to an early lead. And mournful because it slipped away.

With Lowe betrayed by some untimely wildness and reliever Mark Malaska unable to rescue him, the division-leading Sox stumbled, 8-4, before 34,589 who weathered a 16-minute rain delay hoping in vain for a sunny finish. The loss snapped Boston's four-game winning streak while Kansas City won for only the third time this season in 17 tries on the road.

"It's sickening to think we lost that game from where it seemed like we had it under control," Lowe said. "Just to have it unravel that fast, especially with walks, is frustrating."

Deadlocked at 2-2 after Mike Sweeney countered Mueller's homer with a two-run double in the third inning, the game got away from Lowe with two outs and a runner on first base in the sixth. First he walked Desi Relaford, the eighth batter in KC's order. Then he walked the ninth batter, David DeJesus, loading the bases.

"Normally, when you're not able to make the pitches you have to," Lowe said, "you're going to lose that game."

Bingo. The next batter, Angel Berroa, whacked an infield single to third as the Royals seized a 3-2 lead and Sox manager Terry Francona summoned Malaska, the rookie lefthander. Francona wanted to force the switch-hitting Carlos Beltran to bat righthanded since Beltran was hitting only .179 from the right side of the plate and .297 lefthanded. And the manager went with Malaska because he figured it was too early to call on his veteran lefty, Alan Embree.

Trouble was, Malaska promptly threw three straight balls to Beltran.

"Going 3-0, you obviously put yourself behind the eight ball right away," Malaska said. "Then you've got to come with three straight strikes. If you're going to get beat, you want them to hit the ball rather than walk."

Beltran hit it, scorching a 3-2 pitch into the left-field corner for a double to clear the bases and stick the Sox in a 6-2 jam.

No one was tougher on Malaska than himself.

"When the manager has confidence in you like that, you don't want to let him down," Malaska said. "Today, I feel like I let him and the team down."

But there was no need for Malaska to shoulder the entire burden. Sox hitters generally believed they should have done more damage against Royals starter Darrell May and his beleaguered relief corps. And Lowe, who dropped to 3-3 with a 5.01 ERA, mucked things up by allowing three of the five batters he walked (one intentionally) to score.

The game really began to turn against the Sox in the third when second base umpire Joe West ruled that shortstop Pokey Reese came off the bag too soon in taking a throw from first baseman David McCarty on a grounder by DeJesus. Replays showed Reese did come off the bag, though middle infielders very often get those calls if the plays are otherwise made cleanly. The ruling left the Royals with runners at first and second with none out.

"I thought I was on the bag," Reese said. "That's how I normally turn a double play, just step on the bag and relay it to first. But [West] is human. Everybody makes mistakes."

Lowe, too. With two outs and runners at second and third, the Sox opted against intentionally walking Sweeney, even though Sweeney was batting a career .467 (7 for 15) against Lowe (the Sox walked Sweeney the next three times he stepped to the plate).

"I just didn't want to handcuff [Lowe] and load the bases at that point," Francona explained.

Sweeney responded by golfing a double down the left-field line to make it 2-2.

But even after the Royals rolled up their 6-2 lead, the Sox threatened to erase it in the sixth as they loaded the bases on a double by David Ortiz, a walk to Manny Ramirez, and a two-out infield single by Kevin Millar. Up came Mueller, who jolted the first pitch from reliever Jaime Cerda just foul of the pole by the Green Monster. Mueller went on to wage a valiant, 13-pitch at-bat before Cerda prevailed, inducing a rally-snuffing ground out. But Mueller wanted no consolation points for his dogged plate appearance.

"You beat yourself up every time you make an out in some fashion," he said. "You're trying to be successful every time, no doubt about that. I'm a bottom-line guy. Results matter to me, not how my at-bat looks."

Overall, the at-bats hardly looked shabby for the Sox. But the results were not so glowing. Other than Mueller's two-run shot in the second off May, the Sox scored only on Ramirez's solo blast off Cerda in the eighth and Johnny Damon's broken-bat single in the ninth.

Still, as strange and mournful as the aftermath may have seemed, the Sox expected a brighter week ahead. They predicted they would avoid anything like the five-game losing streak they recently endured.

"There's not going to be another streak," Damon said. "If so, it's going to be a winning streak." 

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