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Hey boys, don't get comfortable

Another road trip around the corner

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The question before the house -- and that's assuming Red Sox players can find theirs after returning to Logan Airport from the West Coast in the predawn hours today -- is whether spending three days in your own bed before heading out of town again constitutes what in baseball parlance has always been called a ''homestand."

Especially when the better part of those three days will be engaged in trying to find ways of beating those former Commonwealth Avenue tenants, the Braves, whose distant ties to Boston are cited by Major League Baseball as sufficient cause to give them an annual opportunity to inflict additional misery on the Olde Towne Team. The Sox, who host the Braves in a three-game set beginning tomorrow night on Yawkey Way, have lost 12 of 15 games at Fenway Park to their so-called ''natural" rivals since interleague play began in 1997.

Take the trash out, drop the kids off at school, brace yourself for Tim Hudson, John Smoltz, and the Jones boys.

''Does the Hall of Fame game count as home?" said Sox manager Terry Francona, referring to the team's scheduled stop for an exhibition in Cooperstown, N.Y., Monday before heading out on the road again, to Toronto and New York next week.

''I do know that I'll try to get my clothes in in a hurry, so I can get them back before we leave."

This latest excursion, to Seattle and Oakland, barely generated enough highlights to fill the back of a postcard. Manny Ramirez made a little history (home run No. 400 Sunday at Safeco Field), Johnny Damon brokered a wedding proposal (hiding an engagement ring in his glove for a couple of love-struck Sox fans before a game here), and Mark Bellhorn rediscovered his home run swing, but precious little else happened worth remembering.

A trip that began with the Mariners cuffing around David Wells's stand-in, Jeremi Gonzalez, last Friday night in Seattle, when the Sox gave up a season-high 14 runs, ended yesterday afternoon with the Athletics scoring early and often against Wells, who probably would have opted to punt on first down if his sprained right foot would have allowed him to do so.

There was precedent for Wells, who eschewed making a test run in Pawtucket, returning from an extended absence and barely missing a beat. Last season, after taking a tumble in his kitchen and cutting his right (nonpitching) wrist on a wine bottle while horsing around with a friend, Wells was out of action with the San Diego Padres for 23 days, then showed up at Fenway Park and held the Sox scoreless for 5 2/3 innings.

But yesterday, missing by a day the one-year anniversary of his household accident, Wells barely missed an Oakland bat, starting with his first pitch, which Athletics speedster Mark Kotsay smartly bunted past the immobile lefthander for a base hit. Wells gave up six hits -- five singles and a double -- plus a sacrifice fly in the first, then went single, single, three-run home run to Eric Chavez, before Francona decided that tomorrow's birthday boy (42 candles) had had enough exercise for one afternoon.

''Because the game looked bad today, you guys are going to decide I needed one [a rehab start]," Wells said, the contempt in his voice sharper than his curveball was yesterday. ''You write what you want. I felt good, that's the bottom line . . . Just a bad day, a bad day."

A bad day to end a bad trip, one in which the Sox lost two of three to the Mariners and two of three to the Athletics, teams destined to be bottom-feeders in the American League this season barring a miraculous transformation in midsummer.

Sox starting pitchers, who had performed so admirably after Wells and Curt Schilling both came up lame -- an 8-1 record and 3.07 ERA in 13 starts -- were treated rudely on the road, allowing 31 earned runs in 30 innings in six games, an ERA of 9.30. Gonzalez gave up seven runs on nine hits in 3 1/3 innings Friday night, and Wells managed the exact line in two fewer innings.

The A's, who came into the game as the AL's lowest-scoring team, averaging fewer than four runs per game, enjoyed a 19-hit breakout against Wells and relievers Gonzalez and John Halama. Four of those hits were by a guy who the day before had accidentally put his bat in handcuffs: A security guard gave Eric Byrnes a set of cuffs after he'd yanked a marauding fan off the outfield fence during Sunday's game; Byrnes was practicing his cuffing technique on his bat when they unexpectedly snapped shut and he couldn't find the key.

His bat was eventually liberated, which was not the case for Ramirez, who in his only two at-bats yesterday went hitless, dropping his average to .237.

A man whose career, in the aftermath of Sunday's milestone home run, was framed in Hall of Fame terms, has fallen to levels not seen since his first full season in the majors, when he was hitting .250 on this date on the way to .219 on June 6, his career low-water mark that late in a season.

''We just weren't good," said Damon, who went hitless in four trips yesterday and is just 2 for 21 in the five games since his 18-game hitting streak came to an end Saturday.

''It started at the top of the lineup. I didn't hit. A bunch of us didn't hit on this trip.

''But we're going home to Fenway."

Not for long. For the second time this season, the Sox are home for just three days. That's something they encountered just once last season, in September, and that was only for a quick dash to New York before coming home again for a week.

But Harry and Holly Stephenson, the husband and wife from Martha's Vineyard, Mass., who had made out baseball's schedule on their computer for the last 24 years, were replaced this year by a small outfit in Butler, Pa. -- Matt Clement's hometown -- headed by a couple of professors, one in business, the other in engineering. Voila, the three-game ''homestand," during a stretch in which the Sox play 19 out of 28 games away from home.

Enjoy it while you can, fellas.

''We've got to win where we play," Francona said. ''But I understand your point. When we go home for a while, guys get to see their families.

''At some point, and I don't claim to be that smart, I know we're going to play 81 games at home. It doesn't seem like it right now, but it'll even out somewhere."


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