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BRAVES 6, RED SOX 3

Sox walk off empty-handed

Braves steal it with HR in 12th

ATLANTA -- So this is the way it's going to be? A knee-buckling body blow in the Bronx one night, an anguishing ambush in Atlanta the next?

The only constant, it seems, in this recent run of misery for the Red Sox is calamity.

"There's always a test, and we're definitely going through one right now," manager Terry Francona said after the latest unfathomable defeat, the second straight fall-from-ahead loss in extra innings.

Less than 24 hours after the breakdown in the Bronx, the Sox let another victory painfully slip away as Manny Ramirez delivered the go-ahead run in the 10th inning, only for Keith Foulke to surrender the tying run in the bottom of the inning before Nick Green smashed a three-run homer off newly recalled Anastacio Martinez with none out in the 12th to bury the Bostonians, 6-3, before 42,231 at Turner Field.

"I made a big mistake and put the ball club in a bad situtation and we didn't overcome it," said Foulke, who blew his third save in 16 tries. "That's one where I've definitely got to get the job done there."

With their second straight devastating walkoff loss, the Sox suffered their fourth straight defeat amid an ugly stretch in which they have gone 13-19 since last month.

"We definitely don't like the direction we're going in," said Johnny Damon, who scored the go-ahead run in the 10th on Ramirez's single off Kevin Gryboski. "It doesn't matter how you lose or how long it takes to lose. It's frustrating."

Ramirez, who had slugged an apparent winning homer in the 13th inning in the Bronx before the sky fell, fanned for the final out in the 12th inning with Damon on second base and Mark Bellhorn on first. It marked one of several late chances the Sox failed to convert as they went 3 for 14 with runners in scoring position.

"We had our chances, but we didn't capitalize," Francona said.

Foulke faltered by surrendering a double to left to Rafael Furcal leading off the 10th.

"It was definitely good hitting," Foulke said. "You don't see too many guys go the other way like that with my changeup."

But then Foulke sailed a wild pitch high and inside to Green, who was expected to sacrifice, allowing Furcal to reach third.

"That's the pitch that really killed us," he said. "They were going to give us an out, which I'd gladly take. But I was trying to get off the mound too quick and just air-mailed it to the backstop."

Martinez, who arrived before the game to replace the ailing Scott Williamson, held off the Braves in the 11th before he allowed a single to Mark DeRosa and a double to Furcal in the 12th.

"He's in a bind there," Francona said. "He was trying to get a strikeout and left the pitch up over the plate. That's a very difficult spot for a kid who just got here today."

Martinez, who does not speak English well, was counseled afterward by Pedro Martinez as he sat before his locker.

"He will be fine," Pedro Martinez said.

Except for the inequity of losing their designated hitter under National League rules, the victory-starved Sox fielded the team they envisioned over the winter for the first time this season.

Bill Mueller was back. So were Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon, neither of whom started in the spectacular summer classic the night before in the Bronx. And the big guns, David Ortiz and Ramirez were there, as always.

OK, so Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling cheered from the bench, but Bronson Arroyo, the projected sixth starter over the winter, pitched as well as the pair of aces might have, handing off a 2-2 tie after seven innings to the Sox pen.

From there, Alan Embree did everything he was expected to do entering the season as he retired the Tomahawkers in order in the eighth. Mike Timlin followed suit by escaping a little mess in the ninth, stranding the winning run at third.

But the Sox offense has not been kind to Arroyo (2-7), who lowered his ERA to 4.50 as he tried to snap a six-game losing streak and pick up his first win since May 15 in Toronto. The Sox have averaged only 3.6 runs a game for Arroyo, the fewest of any starter (Schilling has received the best support with an average of 6.8 runs a game).

But it was no fault of Ortiz, the All-Star-in-waiting who launched a solo shot off Atlanta starter Jaret Wright in the first inning. The Sox picked up their only other run for Arroyo when Jason Varitek singled, stole second base, and scored on Mueller's single in the second inning.

The Sox had a chance to position Arroyo for the win when they loaded the bases with one out in the eighth inning against their former farmhand, Chris Reitsma (the Sox traded him to the Rockies in 2000 in a package for Dante Bichette). Ortiz lofted a fly to left field, just shallow enough that third base coach Dale Sveum made a difficult decision to hold Kevin Youkilis, who is not one of the fastest runners on the team.

"I thought we might take our chances, but we had Manny coming up," Ortiz said. "It's kind of crazy. You don't have the fastest runner on the team running at third. I thought we might want to take our chances with another guy, but I don't know."

With two outs, Ramirez looked at three straight strikes from Reitsma, including a 95-mile-per-hour heater for strike three.

Atlanta closer John Smoltz, who has not allowed a run in 12 career innings over six appearances against the Sox, also foiled a scoring chance in the ninth inning after Garciaparra singled and reached second on a wild pitch with none out. Smoltz kept the Braves alive by sandwiching strikeouts of Nixon and Kevin Millar around a fly out by Varitek and a walk to Pokey Reese.

In the end, Francona was left to try to buoy the sagging Sox. He vowed to maintain a positive spirit.

"You want to look for things to go right," he said. "We've got a tired group and some bullpen guys who are on fumes. They go out and give everything they have, so if I come in here and they see me with my tail between my legs, that's not right. So they won't."

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