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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

This defeat not only thing haunting them

TORONTO -- Terry Francona gave all the standard answers to the standard questions after yesterday's 3-1 loss to Roy Halladay and the Toronto Blue Jays. The Sox had just played three weeks without a scheduled day off, they'd fallen out of first place, and they'd wasted another good performance by Pedro Martinez.

They were looking forward to flying to Tampa for today's offday, and the rookies were putting on their Hooter's uniforms (the annual rookie hazing, usually reserved for a trip through Customs) when the press filed out of the manager's office.

Oh, and one more thing, Francona remembered, "Watch for the haunted rooms."

It's always about more than baseball when it comes to the Red Sox, and this week the Sox will be staying in a hotel some believe is haunted. It's an old St. Petersburg joint where Babe Ruth stayed back in the days when the Yankees trained in Tampa. Sox righthander Scott Williamson insists a ghost woke him up from a sound sleep when he was at the St. Pete hotel on a trip with the Reds last year.

"I was laying on my stomach and all of a sudden, I couldn't breathe," the reliever recalled yesterday. "It was like something was pushing down on me. I turned around, when there was this guy dressed in a 1920s, '30s-style staring at me. I never believed in ghosts before, but, like I said, I couldn't breathe. I told somebody about it the next day in the clubhouse and then it was all over the news.

"It's just crazy stuff, one of those freaky things. I'm not one for ghosts, but I know I couldn't breathe."

Kevin Millar added: "When we were in Baltimore at the start of this season, I heard another story about one of their infielders, Brian Roberts, when they stayed there. Supposedly he had some dry cleaning delivered to his room and when he came back to the room the clothes were all laid out on the bed."

The hotel has two sections, one old, one new. Williamson's episode took place in the old section and he won't stay there anymore.

Hmmmm. Maybe Grady Little was onto something when he talked about those ghosts last October.

There was nothing supernatural about yesterday's loss (whoa, smooth transition, no?). It was just a third matchup of Cy Young winners, and this time Halladay was slightly better than Martinez. These things even out. Pedro already beat Halladay twice this season, and how often can you expect to beat Roy Halladay on Roy Halladay Bobblehead Doll Day at SkyDome?

"He's probably the best pitcher in the game," said Johnny Damon, who plans to go fishing on his day off.

Martinez had spectacular stuff, but surrendered a two-run homer on a 1-1 fastball to Carlos Delgado with one out in the fourth. The Sox were leading, 1-0, and Pedro took a no-hitter into the inning, then lost the game on Vernon Wells's cheap infield hit and Delgado's rocket shot to right-center. The Sox had handcuffed Delgado in the series before the home run.

"It was supposed to be up and in and it was out and over the plate," said Martinez. "My mistake. If I could take that pitch back and try to throw it again, I'd try to put it where I want to, but there's nothing I can do. I just have to let it go."

Martinez fell to 4-3 with a 3.75 ERA and he's now given up as many homers this year (seven) in 57 2/3 innings as he did in 186 2/3 innings last year. But his progress from the start of the season is encouraging. He's now had three consecutive strong outings for the first time this year and stated the obvious when he said, "If I continue to pitch the way I have been pitching, I think we're going to win a lot of games."

Oddly, the Sox went 2-2 at Skydome over the weekend, losing only the games started by Curt Schilling and Martinez. It was a fairly wacky series, one in which the Sox had trouble catching the ball (no errors yesterday, though) and continued to struggle at the plate. The Sox lead the American League in pitching but are in the middle of the pack in batting average and are clearly not the offensive machine they were last year. On days like yesterday, one noticed the absence of Nomar Garciaparra, Trot Nixon, and Todd Walker. Trailing, 3-1, after eight, they had Kevin Youkilis, Cesar Crespo, and Pokey Reese due up in the ninth.

Youkilis (4 for 8, .500 average and OBP), who still has yet to walk, led with a single and Millar pinch hit for Crespo, but grounded out. Reese and Damon whiffed, sending the Sox off to Florida -- where they'll be housed in the hotel where the word "boo" takes on a whole new meaning.

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

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