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YANKEES 6, RED SOX 3

Sheff's special

HR powers Yankees past Sox

NEW YORK -- File under ''Not a Good Sign": Dale Sveum last night was talking to the media, engulfed postgame by microphones and pens and notebooks.

''Start it up again," Sveum said, with a smile of resignation, realizing he stands to be the focal point of criticism back home today.

The Sox last night cranked out five consecutive hits in the sixth inning at Yankee Stadium off Randy Johnson and scored just once. Tough to do. Mark Bellhorn and Johnny Damon were cut down at home for the inning's second and third outs, respectively, supplying the defining snapshots of last night's crushing 6-3 loss to the Yankees in a game the Sox led, 2-0 and 3-1, before unraveling in front of a boisterous sellout gathering of 55,051 at the Stadium.

With one out, a run across in the sixth, and the Sox up, 3-1, Edgar Renteria singled to left, where Tony Womack, a converted second baseman, was charging. He reached the ball just as Bellhorn reached third. The play at the plate? Not close.

Then David Ortiz singled up the middle, where second baseman Robinson Cano dived to smother the ball. He hopped up, threw a one-hopper to the plate, and nailed Damon.

''Obviously, you've got a second baseman going out to left who hasn't made a lot of throws," Sveum said. ''But we've got the lead there, you've got one of the greatest pitchers on the mound there who makes his living getting out of jams. Sometimes you push the envelope there.

''The other one, I made a big mistake. I thought the ball rolled farther out into center field than it did. I'd take that one back. The other one, we have a good base runner in Bellhorn at second base, you're trying to add on, we're on the road, we haven't scored a lot of runs lately, we're trying to put more pressure on them."

The pressure, instead, settled on the Boston bullpen. Tim Wakefield, who gave up a two-run homer to Cano, the No. 9 hitter, in the bottom of the sixth, tying the game, exhibited the shakiest command of his season and turned the ball over to Alan Embree with Derek Jeter aboard and no outs in the sixth.

Embree was greeted by Womack, who wanted to bunt, couldn't lay one down, went to a full count, choked up, and fought off an inside pitch for a single into shallow left.

Then Gary Sheffield happened.

As Embree tells it, ''It was supposed to be off the plate for a ball and it was over the plate for a strike. He's got a hammer. And when you run it in, he's going to take advantage of it."

Sheffield, bat wagging, violently launched his body into a swing, his feet actually coming off the ground with the force of his body uncoiling. The box score will show a homer, but this was no arching shot. This was a screaming liner -- the result of Sheffield's ferocious swing meeting a 95 mile-per-hour fastball -- that disappeared into Row 1 of the third deck in left.

''It was one of the hardest home runs I've seen hit," said Sox manager Terry Francona. ''That ball was killed. If it was on our team, I would have admired it."

Sheffield's torpedo, his eighth homer, propelled the Yankees to a 6-3 lead that stood up. The Sox matched a season high with 13 men left on base. They've averaged more than eight men left on through 47 games, and the lack of timely hitting probably has some bearing on why the Sox bullpen went into last night with the American League's highest ERA (5.08).

Francona said he believes his bullpen will weather this, while adding, ''Mistakes lately, it's been for home runs that have directly affected outcomes of games."

Embree, just three days earlier, gave up the three-run, walkoff shot to Toronto's Reed Johnson. Embree's been taken deep six times, tying him with Keith Foulke and David Wells for the team lead.

Francona defended the decision to allow Embree, a lefthander, to face the righthanded-hitting Sheffield, citing Embree's career success against the slugger (Sheffield was 1 for 6 vs. Embree with a home run that came when both were in the National League).

Plus, Francona said, ''That's a little early to start mixing and matching. Alan's had success vs. those guys."

But in the end, the odds failed. All this leaves the Sox in a dour state.

''I'd say we're all frustrated right now," Embree said. ''Everyone's got their own problems. We've got to get it done instead of sitting here and worrying about it."

But, it's tough not to worry, with realities like this: The Yankees have won 16 of 18. The Sox have lost nine of 13. At 0-4, the Sox need Matt Clement to outdo Carl Pavano today or David Wells to beat Mike Mussina tomorrow night to avoid a winless road trip. They had Johnson where they wanted him, thanks to Jason Varitek, who in the fifth inning powered a slider out of the deep part of the park, in left-center, just right of the 399-foot sign, for a 2-0 lead.

Varitek has become a serial home run hitter this season. Last year, he launched No. 10 July 10 on his way to hitting 18. Presently, he's on pace for 34. But Wakefield struggled to hold the leads.

Leading, 3-1, he was brought out for the sixth despite walking six and hitting a batter. He then gave up the lead in six pitches. He walked Bernie Williams on five, then surrendered a shot into the bleachers in right-center off the bat of the 22-year-old Cano, who came into the night with one hit in his previous 16 at-bats.

Jeter followed with a single, and that ended Wakefield's night after five innings-plus. He began the year 2-0 in four starts with a 1.75 ERA. In his six starts since, he's 2-4 with a 6.38 ERA.

The Sox had a chance to take him off the hook, with two men on in the ninth for Bill Mueller, who was 4 for 9 career against Mariano Rivera. But Mueller took a called third strike away to end it.

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