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CARDINALS 9, RED SOX 2

Sox thrown for loss

Mantei, Francona ejected in setback

ST. LOUIS -- Anytime, anyplace -- the more daunting, the better -- the 2004 Red Sox were up for a fight. So, too, it seems, is the 2005 edition, only these Red Sox, an evolving collection of 25 men, 10 of whom are without diamonds and rubies and white gold on their hands, have often been fighting themselves.

Evidence? Look no further than Matt Mantei, whose hit two Cardinals in the seventh inning last night, the second earning him the door, joined by rule by manager Terry Francona, the seventh and eighth ejections of the year for the Sox. That surpasses last season's club total of seven. In fact, on this date one year ago, the Sox had exactly zero ejections.

Mantei left the bases loaded -- on those two hit batsman and a walk -- to Alan Embree, who allowed a two-run single to the following batter, Abraham Nunez, for the final runs in St. Louis's thorough beating of the Sox, 9-2, before a red sea of 47,496 on an 83-degree night at Busch Stadium.

Mantei's line in his last three appearances (Saturday vs Anaheim and the last two nights vs. the Cardinals) basically sums up the Sox' irregularities. He went into Saturday with a 2.12 ERA. Since, his line: 1 2/3 innings, 1 hit, 6 runs, 4 walks, 2 hit batsmen.

''It's been walks," Mantei said. ''They haven't been beating me. I've been beating myself. That's been one of the most frustrating things."

The same can be said, the last two nights, for his teammates. Manny Ramirez, for the second consecutive night, displayed something short of maximum effort. In a four-run St. Louis second inning -- all of those runs off Matt Clement with two outs -- David Eckstein singled to left, and Ramirez got to the ball just as catcher Yadier Molina was touching third. Ramirez, in shallow left, threw off-balance and haphazardly home, and Molina slipped in under Jason Varitek's tag.

Eckstein, the former Sox prospect, has done nothing less over the last two nights than play the best baseball of anyone on the field. He is 5 for 10 with 4 RBIs, and, in the field, had begun four double plays.

The soft-spoken Eckstein, brought to St. Louis to replace Edgar Renteria at about 25 cents on the dollar, has played at ease. Renteria, meanwhile, was booed each time he came to bat, and grounded into two more double plays. In eight at-bats in two nights, he's bounced into four double plays, grounded out twice, flied out once, and singled once.

But most of that was immaterial by the end of three innings, by which time St. Louis led, 7-1.

Clement, in his 13th Sox start, finally suffered a loss, and this wasn't of the undeserved variety he was saddled with so many times last year as a Cub.

''You're really digging to take anything positive," said Clement, who lasted a season-low 4 innings, tying a season high with 7 earned runs. The most bothersome inning was the second, when he recorded two straight outs before walking the catcher, Molina, and allowing a single to the pitcher, Jeff Suppan.

''It's just unacceptable to start an inning with two outs, no disrespect to anybody, but two outs with the No. 8 hitter coming up in the National League, and not be out of the inning," Clement said.

Clement, who gave up 23 home runs in 30 starts last season as a Cub, went into last night having allowed only three. But he was twice taken out of the yard -- by Jim Edmonds, a two-run blast in the first inning, and Reggie Sanders, to lead off the third.

Edmonds, with his uppercut-style swing, launched a cutter low and away (read: not all that bad) into the Boston bullpen in left, where John Halama would be warming up an inning later.

Sanders, meanwhile, stayed with a diving slider and rocketed a ball down the left-field line, so close to the foul pole that Sanders, after his initial homer hop, stopped short, waiting and watching. An enthusiastic Larry Young gave the indication - fair ball.

''They probably were not outside like I wanted, but they were down," Clement said of the home run pitches. ''I can live with that. But the stuff sandwiched in between . . ."

By that, he meant the four-run second. After Suppan singled, so did Eckstein. Clement's next two pitches were hits -- a run-scoring single by Mark Grudzielanek and a two-run double by Albert Pujols, who reached out and dumped the ball into the right-field corner. Thus, St. Louis 7, Boston 1.

The Sox's lone run through six innings was a second-inning Varitek homer, the captain's 11th. Varitek reached base four times in four appearances.

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