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TIGERS 8, RED SOX 3

Quiet in clutch, Red Sox scuffle

DETROIT -- This will be ephemeral. Soon the breeze will be blowing out at Fenway, baseballs will be sailing over the Green Monster like kites over the Charles, crooked digits will be posted on the ancient scoreboard, and that Standells anthem will be pumping.

But that day wasn't yesterday, and Comerica Park -- which might as well be Comerica National Park for all its green grass and landmass -- isn't Fenway. Check the four triples in the box score, three by Detroit. In their 24 games before last night, the Red Sox had combined with their opponents for only six triples.

In the sixth inning, David Ortiz sent a fly ball to left-center field, a ball that would have taken green paint off the Monster. At Comerica, it settled into center fielder Nook Logan's glove for a long out.

Said Ortiz: "I was like 'Damn, Fenway, I miss you."

His teammates felt the same last night, when the Sox left a season-high 13 men on base and hit just .188 (3 for 16) with runners in scoring position. Detroit, meanwhile, rode two Carlos Pena home runs -- a two-run shot to snap a 3-3 tie and a solo homer -- to an 8-3 win before the smallest crowd (17,497 tickets sold) to see a Sox game this season.

No inning was more microcosmic of the dearth of timely hitting than the fourth, when the Sox loaded the bases with no outs and didn't score.

"Our big guys coming up, too," Johnny Damon noted.

The Sox had loaded the bases (Bill Mueller double, Kevin Youkilis walk, Damon single) for Trot Nixon, Manny Ramirez, and Ortiz. But Nixon flied to shallow left, Ramirez fanned (one of his two strikeouts on the night), and Ortiz grounded to second.

Ortiz also ended the top of the sixth inning with his deep fly out to center with Nixon and Ramirez aboard. Ortiz left five on base and is hitting just .208 (5 for 24) with runners in scoring position.

"That ball he hit tonight, if the wind stays where it was that's a home run in a tough place to hit a home run," manager Terry Francona said. "This ballpark plays big. David took a real nice pass at that ball and came up empty. He hit a couple balls the last few days where if we're at Fenway you're asking me why he's hitting so well. You have to keep it in perspective."

Fair enough, but 5 for 24 is still 5 for 24, something Ortiz acknowledged.

"I'm a little way away now from what I usually want to be," said Ortiz.

The least of the Sox' worries, it turned out, was Jeremi Gonzalez, who had thrown no more than 93 pitches in an outing with Pawtucket and wasn't allowed to pass 100 last night. He allowed two runs in the first inning, then just one over the next four, striking out seven. But he needed 99 pitches to complete five, and he exited with the game tied 3-3.

Gonzalez might be looking at another start Saturday and, with Curt Schilling hurt (and not talking to the media) and David Wells out of sight, maybe more. He began last season as Tampa Bay's No. 2 starter but, as he explained last night, ran into some "personal family problems." By mid-May he was 0-4 and totting his 6.69 ERA to Triple A Durham, where he spent most of the remainder of the season.

"I wasn't in the big leagues [much] the last year," said Gonzalez, 29, "so the first couple innings I was trying to throw perfect pitches."

Once he started locating his pitches -- specifically a masterful cut fastball -- he was making the Tigers look overwhelmed. Bottom line: Gonzalez isn't Wells or Schilling, but he might be able to help this team.

"I think so," catcher Jason Varitek said. "When he didn't over-amp, he located it. But the balls that got hit were not exactly where he wanted them. Sometimes he tries to throw too hard."

Same can be said for reliever Blaine Neal, whose position with this team has been tenuous since he was acquired from San Diego late in spring training.

Neal hadn't pitched in a week and entered in the sixth with the game tied. That might have been John Halama's spot if the Sox weren't so banged up and Halama wasn't starting tonight.

"We got hurt by not locating, not so much by the injuries I think," Francona said.

Neal threw six straight balls to begin his night, walking Craig Monroe and falling behind Pena, 2 and 0. Neal worked a full count on the ex-Northeastern Husky before allowing a two-run blast that curled around the right-field foul pole for a 5-3 lead. . Neal lasted just one-third of an inning.

"That was a tough situation, I agree with that," Francona said. "At the same token we can't go all the time to [Mike] Timlin in the sixth after he's pitched two days in a row."

Matt Mantei followed with 1{dbcomma} hitless innings, with three strikeouts. But Alan Embree struggled mightily -- four hits and three runs -- including Pena's second homer of the night -- in two-thirds of an inning.

With all their ailments, the Sox will need every member of their pitching staff to get by, Neal included.

"We're going to need to use him," Varitek said. "I believe we can use him."

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