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RED SOX 9, ATHLETICS 6

A's put in hole

Shortstop Crosby's error gives Red Sox all help they need

Wait until Miguel Tejada hears about this. Bobby Crosby, who replaced Tejada as the A's shortstop after the former MVP bolted cash-strapped Oakland for $72 million of Baltimore's riches, knew full well how much his predecessor yearned for the A's to punish Derek Lowe for his celebratory gestures after the Red Sox clinched last year's American League Division Series.

Sorry, Miguel, but Crosby dropped the ball. Oh, did he drop it.

With the Sox and A's locked in a 2-2 standoff last night in Lowe's first appearance against Oakland since the playoffs, the rookie shortstop bobbled a two-out, bases-loaded grounder in the fourth inning by Mark Bellhorn and threw wildly to second as Boston's base runners hurtled toward home. Crosby's gaffe, one of his two in the game, cleared the way for four unearned runs, which proved decisive as the Sox foiled the avenging A's, 9-6, before 34,931 at Fenway Park.

For their part, the Sox were sensational in the field, making Oakland's league-leading defense look downright ordinary.

"They had two errors that cost them the game and we ended up with none," said Sox shortstop Pokey Reese, who was masterful in the field. "That was the outcome of the game."

The victory, the fifth straight for the Sox, was hardly triumphal for Lowe. Though he improved to 4-4, the sinkerballer struggled through his fourth straight outing, surrendering five runs over six innings as his ERA increased to 6.22 overall and to 8.24 over his last four appearances.

"I think we're beyond the prettiness of my numbers," Lowe said. "They're going to be pretty much not looking good for a long time, so the bottom line is, win. And not having won for so long, it's good to get one under your belt."

Lowe could thank Crosby and the Sox' defense largely for his first win since April 29. But the Sox also provided some timely hitting, none more crucial than Jason Varitek's. With the Sox clinging to a 6-5 lead in the sixth, Varitek broke the game open with a three-run blast over the Monster, knocking in Johnny Damon, who had doubled, and Manny Ramirez, whom A's starter Mark Redman had intentionally walked to face Varitek.

"[Redman] had gotten him out three times," Oakland manager Ken Macha said of his decision to leave Redman in to face Varitek. "And [Varitek] kind of hits everybody in our bullpen."

Varitek anticipated the scenario from the moment Ramirez strode toward the plate with a runner on third and first base open. Asked if he took special pleasure "sticking it" to the A's for their gambit, Varitek said, "It's not necessarily sticking it to them. I was able to get a pitch in the zone and was able to handle it."

Every Sox starter but David Ortiz scored at least one run, and Ortiz, who entered the game leading the American League with 38 RBIs, chipped in with a run-scoring single. Bellhorn and Kevin Youkilis singled in the other Sox runs. Damon, who walked twice in addition to his double, was the only Boston player to score twice.

It hardly mattered that the A's outhit the Sox, 14-9, since defense proved so decisive.

"They beat us as far as the hitting category goes," Damon said, "but we took advantage of some missed opportunities."

The crucial opportunity was Crosby's in the fourth. Damon, who drew a two-out walk off Redman to load the bases, helped force the game-turning error by barreling toward second base so fast that Crosby rushed the throw, misfiring it through right field and into foul territory. The miscue allowed three runs to score as Bellhorn reached second. Ortiz then singled home Bellhorn to stake Lowe to a 6-2 lead.

Lowe, who let the A's threaten by handing back three runs in the fifth, ultimately surrendered five runs on nine hits, including a two-run homer by Eric Chavez, and a walk, as he threw 96 pitches. But Sox manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Dave Wallace considered the outing a measure of progress for the sinkerballer.

"There was a stretch of his first few innings that were real efficient, very good," Wallace said. "I think it's a work in progress, and for a first step, I think we're on the right track."

Still, Lowe needed the Sox pen to carry him the rest of the way, which proved to be little problem after Anastacio Martinez yielded a run on three straight singles in starting the seventh inning. From there, Alan Embree, Mike Timlin, and Keith Foulke each retired three batters to finish off the A's, with Foulke picking up his 10th save and 24th straight since last season.

To a man, though, Sox pitchers went out of their way to credit their defense, which often has struggled early in the season. The Sox turned two double plays and received a number of nifty individual efforts. Notable among them was Reese charging and barehanding a slow roller to throw out Crosby in a dazzling play to end the fourth inning, and first baseman David McCarty combining with Timlin to rob pinch hitter Billy McMillon of a hit down the first base line with one out and two runners on base in the eighth.

"That changed the game right there," Reese said. "If that ball gets by [McCarty], I think two runs score and [McMillon] ends up on second, third, who knows. That was a great play."

As the Sox prepared to go for the sweep tonight, Timlin said the team's defensive woes may be history.

"We've made a lot of errors as a team, but lately we've been playing a lot better defense," he said. "I'm not afraid to throw anything. These guys will field the ball."

The Sox were fortunate Crosby could not.

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