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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Left with strong feeling of dread

NEW YORK -- It's not even July yet, so how come it feels so much like October?

The rational part of me wants to tell citizens of Red Sox Nation to remain calm. Last night's ugly 11-3 loss to the Yankees in the Bronx was only one game and the Sox are still 6-2 against these guys this year. The pitching matchups favor the Sox tonight and tomorrow, and we're not even halfway through the season yet.

On the other hand, the Yankees were 4 1/2 games behind the Red Sox on the morning of April 29, and today they lead Boston by a season-high 6 1/2 games (seven in the loss column). That's an 11-game swing in two months. The Sox have played .500 baseball for a full third of a season (27-27 since May Day) and lead the majors in unearned runs allowed (58, including four last night).

Toto, we're not in April anymore.

Two of Boston's Big Four free agents-to-be failed in the much-hyped series opener. Derek Lowe (6-7 with a 5.47 ERA and his price goes down every day) surrendered a career-high nine runs before the fifth inning ended. Meanwhile, Nomar Garciaparra continued to look more uncomfortable than Mitt Romney at a 50 Cent concert. Nomie committed two errors in the first four innings (the second led to three unearned runs) and is hitting .250 in 16 games since his return.

This certainly isn't what we all had in mind while waiting for Garciaparra to return. The shortstop has picked up where he left off last season, which is an unfortunate development. He's still wounded from his perception that he's been treated shabbily by management and he's playing like a guy who hears "Pokey would have had it" every time he fails to field a ball cleanly. His second error effectively took the Sox out of the game and inspired the Bronx sellout to chant, "Thank you, Nomar!"

The Sox clubhouse had the feel of the Fisher Funeral Home after this one. Six Feet Under. All the way. One by one, players came out to face the media firing squad. All of them did. Even Nomar. Barely.

"Guys go out and try to make plays," he began. "That [errors] is all part of it. I don't know if it's just defense. It takes a complete ballgame. We're just trying to work hard and make plays. Sometimes you make 'em and sometimes you don't."

That was about it. Nomar excused himself. There may have been unhappier players in the history of Boston sports, but this typist remembers none. It could not be more clear these are the final days of Nomar Garciaparra in Boston. Fans can only hope his performance rebounds. Thus far, we are seeing the same player who struggled last September and October.

It's an unfair sampling.

"He certainly hasn't played a lot of games," said manager Terry Francona when asked if it looked as if Garciaparra was playing "tight" at short. "I don't think it's a question. But the guy has missed a lot of games."

His first error was a throwing error -- one that would have been handled by a good first baseman. Kevin Millar is not a good first baseman. Back in the day, Steve Garvey saved dozens of errors for Ron Cey, Bill Russell, and Davey Lopes. Garciaparra could use that kind of help now.

Garciaparra's second error was a clanger off the glove that kept an inning alive for a three-run homer by Gary Sheffield. It put the game out of reach.

Even Francona had to acknowledge that the Sox are playing like the Dick Stuart All-Stars. Every Boston infielder botched a ball last night, though only two were credited with errors.

"What has happened has happened," said the manager. "We have been bad at times. That's certainly a fair assessment. We do have to make the plays and not give the extra outs. We are a team that doesn't feature a lot of speed, and when you don't hit and you make errors, your team looks slow."

Lowe acknowledged, "We have to play better. Playing .500 over the next three months ain't going to get us anywhere."

Catcher Jason Varitek, who got no help from Lowe while four bases were stolen, said, "The effort's there. It's just not happening. Things need to work together, and when they don't you have chaos."

Chaos. Good word for the Red Sox right now.

Tonight Tim Wakefield returns to this haunted mound for the first time since he threw a high knuckleball to Aaron Boone at 12:16 a.m. Oct. 17. It's probably not the best venue for Wakefield, who hasn't won since May 23.

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

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