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ON BASEBALL

Team has gone south while north

TORONTO -- In two games here they've looked like accidental tourists.

What's going on with your Boston Red Sox? They've stumbled into the Rogers Centre and left their best baseball in Boston. Is the presence of the New York media previewing the upcoming Yankees series distracting them? Are they looking ahead to the Bronx when they ought to be focusing on a Blue Jays team that could dog them all season?

The Sox lost Tuesday night on a walkoff homer by Reed Johnson. Last night they never got that close, losing 6-1. Ted Lilly baffled them, leaving with one out in the seventh inning after surrendering his first run. You got the feeling early on that this one was over.

The Blue Jays raced to a 5-0 lead against Bronson Arroyo, who was victimized by a pair of errors -- Kevin Millar's in the first, and one by Arroyo in the fifth -- and there wasn't much of a fight even after Lilly left.

The hundreds of Sox fans here probably had a better time visiting the CNN Tower.

''That's why you play the games," said Blue Jays catcher Gregg Zaun. ''We've been spinning our wheels and hanging around .500 and we have to string together some wins against teams like Boston to be taken seriously. I come out here every season hoping that we can start building something and reach the point where we can compete with some of these teams. It's got to start in here.

''They're the world champions. It's easy to get up to play teams like that. We need to take things just as seriously when we play other teams."

The Sox knew it was going to be like this. Opponents bring their ''A" game every night, or at least most nights. All the more reason why the Sox have to kick it in gear. With the improved Jays and Orioles, the AL East revolves around more than just Red Sox-Yankees now.

''That's a good team right there," said Millar of the Blue Jays. ''They seem to have more balance than they have had. [Manager John] Gibbons does a good job using everybody over there. They have a good bench and they're scrappy. They have good starting pitching with [Roy] Halladay and Lilly at the top. This whole division is tough and that's what makes it fun."

But there was no joy in the Sox clubhouse last night, while the Blue Jays' locker room was full of optimism.

Millar spent a good half-hour watching his at-bats on video, trying to find some clue as to why he is now 6 for his last 39 after an 0-for-4 night.

Millar is expected back in the lineup tonight with lefthander Gustavo Chacin going for Toronto. But it's possible first baseman John Olerud might join the big club in New York. Maybe an infusion of veteran talent is what the Sox need to wake up.

''I just haven't gotten locked in," Millar said. ''Two days before I fouled a ball off my foot. To come back and take two 0 for 4s, yeah, it's tough personally. [Tuesday] night I couldn't get a pitch or a mistake and [last night] was just one of those nights where Lilly was Lilly. As a hitter you just have to battle through those times. The 2-0 pitches will come, the hanging sliders will be there, but you have to grind these times out.

''I've got too much stuff going in my head right now. I'm thinking about too many things. I just need to go up there and see the baseball and hit the baseball. I have a God-given ability of hand-eye coordination. When I swing the bat, I usually make contact. Sometimes we get into a mode where we're trying to analyze everything. You can do that in the cages but you don't have time to do that during the game."

Maybe it was just Lilly being Lilly. Of his five career starts in which he's struck out 10 or more, three have come against Boston. He struck out 13 Red Sox in a 3-0 three-hitter Aug. 24, 2004. There's no question Sox hitters are mesmerized by him.

Lilly's is getting stronger and stronger after being placed on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis April 1. Last night was his longest outing of the season.

''I've been making changes through the season," Lilly said. ''I think I have better command of my breaking ball. I don't know about anything special over Boston. If I just go out and throw strikes I'm going to be successful."

Sox manager Terry Francona got, in his words, ''a rusty" Arroyo in his return from a six-game suspension for his role in the April 24 skirmish with the Devil Rays, but when trying to analyze the loss he concluded, ''We could pick apart everything . . . but we had four hits."

By the end of the night, the Blue Jays were 25-21, tied with the Yankees, and the Sox were 25-20. Close, yes, but it's all about expectations.

The Blue Jays appear excited about where they're going. The Yankees have to be pleased given where they've come from.

Right now, the Sox are wondering where they are.


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