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ORIOLES 13, RED SOX 4

Smeared makeup

It's not a pretty game for Lowe and Sox

Sprinkle some sugar on it. Glaze it. Give it a whirl in the cotton candy machine.

Then forget about it.

The sad truth is, there's no sugarcoating the pasting the Red Sox absorbed yesterday as Derek Lowe's anguished quest to regain his winning ways grew ever more sour.

With Lowe lost again at crunch time and their bats too often working like toothpicks, the Red Sox ended an otherwise upbeat 10-game homestand getting bushwhacked by the Orioles, 13-4, before 35,465 in a Memorial Day makeup game at Fenway Park.

"Once again, we got beat today," Kevin Millar said, capturing it aptly enough. "They just kept hitting and hitting, and it was just one of those games where we couldn't get the runs across."

Even so, the Sox wound up going 16-14 in May, which hardly seemed possible when they opened the month with five straight losses, their worst May start in 28 years. They sealed their recovery by going 7-3 on the homestand.

"I do think we took advantage of a long homestand," manager Terry Francona said. "It's a great place for us to play and I thought we took advantage of it."

The Sox went from opening the month with a three-game edge over the Yankees in the American League East to sharing the lead with the Steinbrenner Nine after yesterday's loss. But they were playing without Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon, coping with the failure of their original fifth starter, Byung Hyun Kim, and trying to make their way with Lowe searching desperately for the stuff that made him the majors' second-winningest pitcher (behind Toronto's Roy Halladay) over the previous two seasons.

"I'm at a loss for words," said Lowe, who ended a month of misery in which he went 1-4 with an 8.09 ERA, the worst among AL starters. He dropped to 4-5 overall with a 6.84 ERA, which is higher than the ERA Kim had (6.17) before he bolted home to South Korea.

"Derek just can't right the ship right now," Francona said. "Sure, it's troubling. If I had a better answer, I would certainly give it to you. I don't."

With the Sox trailing, 2-0, in the sixth inning and poised to chase Baltimore starter Rodrigo Lopez with a high pitch count, Lowe let the game get away. He failed to retire any of the five batters he faced in the inning, though he insisted his sudden futility had nothing to do with cutting his right thumb with his fingernail on a 3-and-2 curve he threw for ball four to Javy Lopez to open the inning.

"It wouldn't stop bleeding, but it was at the top of my thumb," Lowe said. "As far as the pitches go, I wish I could say it affected them more than it did."

Before Lowe could right himself, Lopez advanced to third on B.J. Surhoff's single and scored on Luis Matos's double off the Monster. Then Lowe walked Larry Bigbie to load the bases and walked Jerry Hairston with his final pitch of the game to force in another run.

"The sixth inning," he said. "I can't tell you how many times they have seemed to unravel."

In his last four starts, Lowe has allowed a combined 12 runs in the sixth inning while recording a total of seven outs, giving him an ERA of 46.35 in the inning over that span.

This time, he got little help from lefthander Lenny DiNardo, who was summoned with none out and the bases loaded. Brian Roberts promptly cleared the bases by doubling to left-center on an 82-mile-an-hour cut fastball. One pitch later, Melvin Mora mashed an 83-mile-an-hour cutter over the Monster for a two-run homer, making it 9-0.

"I just wasn't as sharp as I need to be," DiNardo said. "That was the difference between a good cutter with movement and having it stay up over the plate. I've got to get the job done because they put me in there and expect me to get it done. Next time, hopefully they'll have the confidence to put me in there again and I'll do it."

Lowe also got little help from the offense. Lopez, whose ability to change speeds and locate his pitches has bedeviled the Sox (he went 4-0 against them in 2002), gave them an opening in the first inning when Johnny Damon singled leading off and Mark Bellhorn singled Damon to second. But the heart of the order was unable to deliver as Lopez fanned David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez before he got Jason Varitek to ground out.

"If we score in the first inning, maybe [Lowe] relaxes a little bit and gets more confidence," Damon said. "For a guy like that, we need to score more runs right now, and we didn't do it."

Only after they sank into the 9-0 quagmire did the Sox muster much offense. With Lopez tiring in the sixth, Ortiz walked and advanced when reliever Darwin Cubillan walked Ramirez, surrendered a single to Varitek, and induced a run-scoring ground out by Millar.

Damon doubled home a run in the seventh before Cubillan wild-pitched home another run. And Millar took Eddy Rodriguez deep in the eighth to complete Boston's scoring.

But the Orioles countered with four more runs of their own off DiNardo and Jamie Brown to stymie the Sox and leave Lowe wondering when his fortunes would turn. He appeared certain they would, as they did after he endured a long run of misery as a closer in 2001.

"I believe good things are going to happen," he said. "I don't ever dread going out there. In 2001, there were times when you actually dreaded pitching because you knew you were pitching poorly. Now, you're waiting for that game to get you going. The only way you can get through things like this is to keep working hard and believe you're going to get through it, and then at the end of the year you can look back and be proud of what you've done."

His teammates shared his confidence.

"He's going to be OK," Millar said. "You're going to look at the end of the year and he's going to have 17-20 wins and we're going to be talking about something else."

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