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RANGERS 7, RED SOX 2

Home run by Soriano a sore spot

ARLINGTON, Texas -- This is how bad it's gotten for your beloved Red Sox: Johnny Damon didn't realize that suspended skipper Terry Francona wasn't managing last night until the second inning. Really.

"I hope there will be days when he can come and just chill out," Damon said following a 7-2 loss to Texas, the Sox' fifth defeat in six games, evening the team's record at 11-11, the club's worst start since going 11-11 in the opening month of 1999.

"We're used to chaos," Damon said, but that point taken, the chaos and obstacles were mounting following the loss before 43,933 at Ameriquest Field.

Ace Curt Schilling officially went on the disabled list yesterday, joining No. 2 starter David Wells. Bronson Arroyo learned he will be suspended six games (one start) and Trot Nixon two games, both barring successful appeals. Francona, meanwhile, missed last night's game and will sit out today and tomorrow for his role in the bench-clearing incidents last Sunday in Tampa Bay.

Lefthander John Halama, scheduled to start Monday, allowed two earned runs last night in one inning, inflating a 5-2 Texas lead to 7-2. Mark Bellhorn has come down with what Damon dubbed "the Billy Mueller Flu." That led the Sox to place a call to Kevin Youkilis down in Pawtucket. He's expected to join the team today.

On top of that, Ramon Vazquez, who played second base in Bellhorn's absence, had his upper right leg wrapped tightly last night after tweaking a muscle ducking out of the way of a pitch.

And, by the way, the Baltimore Orioles -- the supposed all-hit, no-pitch O's -- are 15-7, leading the Sox by four games and the Yankees by 6 1/2 in the jumbled American League East.

"This is definitely not the situation we'd like to be in," Damon concluded.

The real source of concern, as usual in this game, is pitching, and the Sox are losing the arms race. Tampa Bay, Baltimore, and Texas, in the last six games, have hit Sox pitching for a .344 average (74 for 215), and the Sox have posted a 6.53 ERA.

Sox opponents -- Baltimore and Texas -- have pounded Boston for 30 hits and 18 runs the last two games. The Sox' offense, meanwhile, mustered a mere three hits last night against Chan Ho Park (7 innings, season-high 7 strikeouts, 4 walks, 2 earned runs).

The two runs came on a Kevin Millar fourth-inning triple on a catchable ball that right fielder Gary Matthews got to on the dead run but couldn't glove. The two-run hit (Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz both had walked before Millar came to bat) was just Millar's second triple since the beginning of the 2002 season.

But the Sox' offense called it a night early. Doug Mirabelli's single to lead off the fifth was the Sox' third and last hit of the night.

Ramirez was involved in a first-inning gaffe that led to Texas's 1-0 lead. With Mark Teixeira aboard having singled, lefthanded-hitting Hank Blalock hit a lazy fly ball to left-center that managed to fall between Ramirez and Damon for an RBI double.

With Wakefield on the mound, Damon said, "Center fielder always plays the pull, [the left fielder] plays shallow in case of a bleeder. I assumed it would be an easy play for him. That's something I should not have done. As soon as I saw him look at me I knew we were in trouble."

Plus, Ramirez's quad seems to still be bothering him.

"Before the game I wasn't sure if Manny's legs were feeling good," Damon added. "That's something I'm going to have to check out from now on. I'll take the responsibility."

But Millar erased the deficit, making it 2-1 Sox, before former Yankee Alfonso Soriano exploded on a low Wakefield pitch with two aboard in the sixth.

"I made one mistake to Soriano," Wakefield said, "and it cost us the game."

Soriano is less visible these days outside of the Apple, but nights like -- weeks like this, actually -- reinforce just how violently hard Soriano can hit a baseball. Tuesday, he clubbed one 439 feet into the left-field club level, just the 10th time that's been accomplished since Ameriquest opened in 1994.

Soriano, before last night's homer, was hitting a dreadful .043 (1 for 23) this season with runners in scoring position. He hit fifth last night, after taking all 96 of his at-bats this season batting leadoff.

Though Wakefield didn't walk anyone -- something he hadn't managed since Aug. 8, 2004, a span of 15 regular-season starts -- he surrendered a season-high five runs on six hits and a hit batsman. His ERA, 1.75 coming in, climbed to 2.78. In fact, in his four previous starts -- two each against the Yankees and Tampa Bay -- he'd allowed only five earned runs total.

Meanwhile, bench coach Brad Mills was forced yet again to answer to the postgame media throng. With Francona suspended, by weekend's end Mills stands to have managed all or part of nine of the Sox' 24 games to date (38 percent).

"It's early," Wakefield said. "I don't see anybody in this clubhouse putting their heads down." That was the elder's perspective. Damon, who desperately wants this team to get going, issued a bit more of a challenge.

"This is a very important time for us, with Wells, Schilling [out]," Damon said. "This month of May is going to dictate how we look at July 31 [the trade deadline]. Whether we're in the market or whether we're the other guys."

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