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BLUE JAYS 8, RED SOX 1

Sox are left blue again

Jays hammer Miller, then finish off sweep

TORONTO -- No need for a team meeting to boost the Red Sox' spirits, said Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar on the eve of a series in the Bronx, where the urgency and intensity they lacked in being swept by the Blue Jays often occurs naturally.

Perhaps the Sox should have envisioned the Blue Jays in pinstripes, because in being swept for the first time in a three-game series this season with last night's 8-1 loss, they played every bit as poorly and uninspired as they had the previous two nights, when they dropped 9-6 and 6-1 decisions.

''There's no red button going on around here," insisted Millar. ''Not in this clubhouse. We just have to shut off the negative and go in there like tomorrow's a new day. It'll be a challenge to face Randy Johnson in New York [tonight] and there's not a bigger boost than going out to play a good series against that team."

Last night's defeat, marking only the second time they've lost three straight this season (they also did it from April 25-29), dropped the Sox to fourth place in the American League East. The Sox haven't been out of the top two spots in the division at this point in the season since 1997, when they were 19-27, fifth in the East.

The biggest downers in this series for the Sox were starting pitching and defense. David Wells allowed five runs on seven hits in 6 1/3 innings Tuesday. Bronson Arroyo allowed five runs (two earned) on six hits in six innings Wednesday, while the Sox made two errors (including one by Arroyo).

And last night, Wade Miller, was atrocious, lasting only two innings, allowing seven runs on six hits and three walks in a game that took only 2 hours 21 minutes before 26,255 at Rogers Centre.

''They outplayed us in every area," said Sox manager Terry Francona.

''Toronto beat us up this series and we turn the page and go to New York," added Millar, who went back to a closed batting stance, and produced three hits. ''It's no secret it will be a great series against [the Yankees]. But we have to find a way to go in there and win some ballgames."

Damon, who said Wednesday that the Sox needed to play with more urgency, felt they had good at-bats against Gustavo Chacin, even though they were swinging early in the count because Toronto's starter and winner was around the plate with what appeared to be a hittable fastball.

''We come to play every day, but it just hasn't worked for us," Damon said. ''We gave up a lot early. We still feel good about ourselves. Things just aren't going the way we would like."

Damon said the things the Sox should be focusing on are ''making the big plays, swinging the big bats, making the right pitch. We're winning and losing as a team, and, unfortunately, we're losing a little more than we're winning.

''I think what people forget was how tough it was last year for us. We had some luck on our side, we had some big hits, we had some walk-offs. We did a lot of great things. I think our record is pretty similar to what it was last year [they were actually 29-17 last year after 46 games, compared with 25-21 this year]. We didn't catch our groove until mid-August. Hopefully, we can catch our groove a little bit sooner. It's a marathon and we know that. We're going to have to get through it running. When we get to the finish line, we still have to have enough gas to get to the playoffs."

Francona figured there would come a time when Miller had a rough start. It came last night in his fourth outing. He had thrown 105 and 106 pitches in his two previous outings, reaching the seventh inning May 20 against Atlanta.

''Physically I feel fine, but mechanically I was just a mess out there," Miller said. ''My arm angle was everywhere. My bullpen [session] just didn't quite feel right. I just didn't have it."

The two big hits for Toronto were Eric Hinske's two-run homer and Russ Adams's bases-clearing double to left-center. Orlando Hudson brought Johnson home with a sacrifice fly, giving the Blue Jays a 6-0 lead after one inning.

It was a hole the Sox, now 2-6 against the Jays this season, couldn't escape from.

The killer for Miller was walking Shea Hillenbrand with two outs in the first, bringing up Hinske. Miller then walked Vernon Wells, allowed a single to Gregg Zaun, and walked Aaron Hill, loading the bases for Adams. Even the final out of the inning, Johnson's liner to shortstop Edgar Renteria, was hit hard.

Francona said he checked on Miller after the first. His velocity, which had been in the low-90s in his previous starts, was in the high-80s. The manager gave Miller one more chance to settle down, but the second inning led to more problems. Hillenbrand stroked a single to left field, which scored Hudson with the Blue Jays' seventh run.

Even though the Sox have a decent record against lefthanded starters, Chacin became the second lefty to baffle them in this series, joining Ted Lilly. They face Johnson tonight, marking the first time they will have faced three straight lefthanded starters.

The Sox scored their only run in the fifth, when Damon's sacrifice liner to left plated Jay Payton, who had singled and moved to third on Mark Bellhorn's infield single and error by Hillenbrand.

In the sixth, the Sox loaded the bases with one out when Chacin walked Jason Varitek and Bill Mueller, sandwiched around an infield hit by Millar. But Payton grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.

''I can't imagine anyone could play us tougher than this," Damon said.


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