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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

There's no mistaking that this one hurts more than others

NEW YORK -- Fire the manager. Trade Nomar. Buy every member of the team a brand new mitt, then shave all their heads. Fire Theo, bring back Dan Duquette, sell the team, and implode Fenway.

Hysterical enough for you?

It's a good thing the Red Sox are on the road for another four days. They are a safe distance from a vicious Boston media, angry talk radio, and fans who are alternately enraged and heartbroken.

In the wake (good word for today) of last night's mind-blowing 4-2 loss to the Yankees in this chamber of horrors, Sox catcher Jason Varitek said, "We've got to find a way to clean this up in the next four games before we get home."

Where to start with the events of last night? Had the game been played 'neath the cover of October skies, it would already have taken its rightful place alongside the Bucky Dent Game and the Aaron Boone Game.

It had to be the most excruciating defeat of this suddenly-southbound season. The Red Sox blew a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh. New York tied the game when Tony Clark hit a two-out, bases-loaded, scorching grounder to first base. Some, including Sox manager Terry "I Love These Guys" Francona, claim that the baseball actually tore through the webbing of David Ortiz's glove. Ortiz wasn't sure, but Sox trainer/glove doctor Jim Rowe punctured the magic bullet theory, reporting that the glove was not torn. No doubt the odd play will become part of Boston baseball folklore, like Luis Aparicio falling down rounding third base in 1972. In any event, Ortiz's error enabled the Yankees to tie the game and increased the Sox' major league-leading unearned run total to 60. In the next inning, Nomar Garciaparra, the loneliest athlete in the world, made a throwing error, helping the Yankees win it with two more runs. Mariano Rivera struck out the side in the Boston ninth. The whole thing was downright Gradylike.

The Stonefingers Sox are 7 1/2 games behind the hated Yankees. Eight games in the loss column. And now that July is here, the Sox officially just played two months of sub-.500 baseball (27-28 in May and June).

Not a single member of the Red Sox baseball operation is in New York this week, which is regrettable. Somebody needs to shake things up and it's not going to be Francona. Mr. Hakuna Matata would be on the firing line if he weren't in the first half of the first year of his three-year deal. He's the closest thing we've seen to M.L. Carr since Pete Carroll. He won't bunt and when he does bunt, his players can't execute. He hasn't been timely with his late-game substitutions (why wasn't David McCarty on the field in the seventh after Ortiz made the final out of the top of the inning?) and discipline is a joke.

Varitek called a players-only meeting yesterday, which was a great idea except Pedro Martinez didn't get to the park on time to participate. Pedro, who has spent the first two nights here bantering with Yankee fans nonstop (think he wants to play here next year?) works on his own schedule. Asked if Pedro was late when the rest of his teammates were stretching at 5:30 -- after the players-only meeting -- Francona said, "He's pitching tomorrow. When I know where people are and the reasons why, I'm OK with it."

He was also OK with Curt Schilling not being at the pitchers' meeting before the series started Tuesday. "He's not pitching in the series," said the manager. " . . . He was not required to be there by me."

Varitek's players-only meeting was a tad risky. It's nice to see a member of the roster taking matters into his own hands, but it was Earl Weaver who first said, "If you have a meeting, then go out and lose, what are you gonna do then?"

We find out tonight when Martinez gets the ball in one of the true gut-check games of his stellar career. The Sox need their $17.5 million ace to earn his money with a win tonight. He simply cannot lose to the Yankees in a game started by rookie Brad Halsey.

Wednesday's Gotham newspapers had a field day with the Sox' woes. Two Post headlines: "Yanks Rough Up Rotten Red Sox" and "Sox Built For Beer League." The Daily News led with "April Fools" over a full-page photo of Nomar's second error. Even the venerable Times, which has $75 million invested in the Sox, couldn't resist a taunt in the form of "With Bridesmaids Back, Yankees Exploit Their Help."

It won't be pretty at the newsstands today, either. The Sox deserve this ridicule and they know it. Given the payroll, the expectation, and the additions of Schilling and Keith Foulke, two months of losing baseball constitute major underachievement by this team.

The Cowboy Uppers of last year did not bring a World Series to Boston, but few would argue that it was among the most thrilling of all Boston baseball summers, taking a place alongside pennant-winning years of 1967, 1975, and 1986. All three of those embraceable teams flopped badly the next year and the 2004 Sox are threatening to do the same thing.

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

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