NEW YORK -- Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon took a seat on the bench last night as the Red Sox fell to 8 1/2 games behind the Yankees, their widest gap in the division race since last August. Both players remain hampered by the injuries that sidelined them until early June.
Garciaparra started nine straight games and 15 of the previous 16 after returning from a bout of tendinitis in his right Achilles'. His play has almost certainly been affected by persistent discomfort in the Achilles' and Francona indicated he had little choice last night but to rest the shortstop.
"Some of it's my fault," Francona said before his team dropped a 5-4 decision in 13 innings, giving the Yankees a sweep of the three-game series.
"He was going to play two, sit one. He hasn't been doing that. This kid's been playing a lot, and it's not like he can go out there and hide. He's right in the middle of the action."
Garciaparra, ever vigilant about trying to prevent opponents from learning the extent of his injuries, declined to discuss his condition in detail, though he acknowledged he has yet to fully heal.
"I'm in the recovery process and I got a day [off]," he said. "It's day to day."
Garciaparra is hitting .235 with a grand slam, nine RBIs, and a .274 on-base percentage in 17 games. He has committed five errors, including three costly miscues in the Yankee series.
"I don't think people realize probably how devoted [he is]," Francona said. "These guys try to get out there and they're playing on the biggest stage in the world in New York and things don't go right. He's doing the best he can. I'm sure it's a very frustrating time for him."
As much as Francona wanted to play Garciaparra if he were healthy, he opted to sit him after consulting Wednesday with Garciaparra and the training staff.
"Sometimes it's hard to do the right thing," Francona said.
Nixon experienced swelling in his injured left quadriceps after Tuesday's game and was limited to DH duties Wednesday. He is taking medication for the problem and felt better.
He pinch hit in the 12th last night, popping out to Derek Jeter, who was injured on the play when he fell into the stands after making a sensational running catch to end a threat. Both Nixon and Garciaparra are expected to return to action tonight in Atlanta.
Williamson derailed After conducting an MRI in Boston on Scott Williamson's arm, Sox medical director Bill Morgan diagnosed the righthander's injury as an impingement of the radial nerve near his pitching elbow. Williamson, who underwent Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on the elbow in 2001, will need to rest the elbow and appears headed for his second stint on the disabled list this season. He missed 20 games with a similar injury before he returned June 11.
"We have to sift through it and see what's right," Francona said of a possible trip to the DL. "I don't think the amount of rest right now is known."
Byung Hyun Kim does not appear ready to return, which leaves the Sox likely to choose from a field of Triple A relievers that includes righthander Anastacio Martinez, righthander Joe Nelson, and lefthander Mark Malaska. Nelson, who pitched for the Braves in 2001 and shined for the Sox in a cameo in spring training, could be the surprise choice. Nelson has appeared in one game for the PawSox after a promotion from Double A Portland, where he went 3-2 with a 1.78 ERA and fanned 49 batters in 30 1/3 innings.
While the Sox weighed how to proceed in Williamson's absence, they also dealt with an assertion by a reporter for the YES Network that Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield used a derogatory term in criticizing Williamson's commitment Wednesday after he left the game. Williamson faced two batters before he departed on the medical staff's recommendation.
Wakefield denied the assertion and Schilling declined to comment.
"Anything that happens in this clubhouse is certainly going to stay in the clubouse," Schilling said.
Francona, who indicated he was not aware of the purported incident, said, "In the emotions of a loss, I think a lot of things get said that either people don't mean or they do mean and it just comes out."
Lowe points There's plenty of buzz that the Sox may move some of their free agents-to-be if their slide continues. Derek Lowe, one of the four Sox stars -- along with Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, and Garciaparra -- playing in the final year of their contracts, spoke about the situation before the game.
"They can do what they want," Lowe said. "They were trying to trade me a month and a half ago. When I was really struggling, I know they tried to get rid of me then. Now I think it all depends on what happens in the next month. These guys, they know who they want to sign and who they don't want to sign and if we start falling out of this thing, then I think the guys they don't want to sign, they'll listen to trade talk. You hope it doesn't come down to that and we don't fall out of it. But if the right deal comes up, I think anybody could be traded at any point."
Regarding the obvious unhappiness of Garciaparra, Lowe said, "It's not the most pleasant thing when you see the writing on the wall and you know where your future's headed. If he has a feeling they don't want him back, and if they're just trying to get rid of you, how much fun are you going to have at your job?"
In still another setback, Ellis Burks may need another surgery on his left knee, a procedure that could end the 39-year-old's career. An MRI showed material in the knee, possibly cartilage, that may require surgical attention. The MRI results were sent to Dr. Richard Steadman in Colorado for a second opinion. Steadman treats the US ski team and his patients have included NFL legends John Elway and Joe Montana . . . With Bill Mueller poised to return tonight, the Sox needed to decide whether to part with Kevin Youkilis or Cesar Crespo, if not someone else . . . Francona, who opted for David McCarty at first base last night after Kevin Millar and David Ortiz committed errors there the previous two nights, said he would wrestle with playing McCarty more often at first when the Sox return to Boston after playing under National League rules this weekend in Atlanta . . . The Yankees posted their largest division lead over the Sox since they ended the 2002 season with a 10 1/2-game cushion . . . The Yankees improved to 10-1 in one-run games at home and to 15-11 overall when they face Martinez, who provided some extra spark when he drilled Gary Sheffield with a pitch in the first inning. Sheffield took a step toward Martinez and jawed at him as Varitek and plate umpire Jim Wolf blocked his path to the mound. Sheffield continued barking at Martinez, who stared silently at him, while Sheffield ambled to first base. Martinez quoted Sheffield as saying, "Not to me, brother," adding, "I don't know what he meant by that." . . . The Sox went 3 for 12 with runners in scoring position and have hit .183 (11 for 60) in those situations this year at Yankee Stadium . . . When McCarty stole second base in the second inning it was his first steal since May 17, 1998 . . . Wednesday night's Red Sox-Yankees game on NESN did a 13.8 rating in the Boston market, the highest for any event in the network's 20-year history.
Dan Shaughnessy and Bill Griffith of the Globe staff contributed to this report.