Keith Foulke doesn't have an answer. Not for his pitching, at least.
''If I knew I'd correct it," Foulke said last night, in the wake of a devastating 12-8 loss in a game the Sox led, 8-5, after six innings. ''I wouldn't keep throwing the ball right down the pipe to get hammered."
Foulke did have an answer for the fans, however. There were 35,445 jammed into the yard last night, and their booing and cussing cascaded out of the stands as Foulke walked off the field in the middle of the ninth. He allowed five earned runs in 1 2/3 innings, the capper being yet another homer, the eighth he's coughed up, this one a grand slam lined just inside Pesky's Pole by an unstoppable Travis Hafner (6 for 10 in the series with 4 doubles, 2 homers, and 8 RBIs).
The game-deciding blast handed the Sox their first loss when leading after eight innings since July 19, 2004.
Foulke, who has rankled people within the organization with his attitude early in this season, sounded weary postgame.
''Boos?" Foulke said. ''Of course I heard it. And I'm not inviting them [the fans] to my World Series celebration either. They have all the right. They can boo, they can cuss me and tell me I [stink]. Go ahead. If they don't want me to do the job, tell them to tell management. I've done a lot of good for this team but, you know, let them boo."
''Are they going to keep me from coming to the ballpark tomorrow? No. They're not going to make it any harder for me to go home and look in the mirror. I'm more embarrassed to walk into this locker room and look at the faces of my teammates than to walk out and see Johnny from Burger King booing me. I'm worried about these guys, not everybody else."
Of course, this game wasn't all Foulke's fault. He was just on the mound at the game's breaking point, as is the nature of his gig.
The collapse, in fact, was something that was built upon on a series of mistakes and curious decisions.
Like Terry Francona's decision to leave Kevin Millar in the game. Millar was the second-to-last batter in the sixth inning when the club scored five times to turn a 5-3 deficit into an 8-5 lead. Millar, therefore, wasn't due up until the eighth inning, at the earliest. And yet he stayed in, rather than come out in favor of Gold Glove first baseman John Olerud.
''We've brought [Olerud] in in the sixth inning a couple times when we've had a big lead, not when the game's going back and forth," Francona said.
In the eighth, with two outs, Victor Martínez bounced a ball inside the bag at first that Millar almost caught. Had Olerud been in the game, there's a chance the eighth inning would have been over with the Sox ahead, 8-6, rather than 8-7. Instead, Martinez's single scored a run, and Foulke had allowed both runners he inherited from Mike Timlin to score.
Foulke began the ninth with a strikeout, but Jody Gerut followed with a liner off the Wall. Manny Ramírez made as clean and efficient a play of fielding the ball barehanded, turning, and throwing to second base as you'll see. But his throw was just offline, and Mark Bellhorn couldn't make a difficult scoop-and-tag maneuver. Aaron Boone followed with fly out, and Foulke was an out away.
But Jhonny Peralta, the No. 9 hitter, singled to right, scoring Gerut for the tying run. Right fielder Jay Payton attempted to make a difficult throw to home plate, airmailed the cutoff man Olerud (who entered the game in the ninth), and sent the ball all the way to Jason Varitek, who went halfway toward third base to field it. That allowed Peralta, representing the winning run, to advance to second base.
Foulke then walked Grady Sizemore on five pitches. He went to a full count on Casey Blake, who was utterly fooled and off balance as he looked at a full-count changeup that began inside and cut back toward the edge of the plate for ball four.
''We're 3 and 2, two outs . . . we lose by four," Francona said, wistfully.
Indeed, up came Hafner, whom Foulke worked into an 0-and-2 hole. It was Hafner who greeted Foulke when he entered in the eighth, so this marked the ever-dangerous situation of a team's best power hitter facing a team's closer for the second time in a game.
When Hafner came through -- lining an 80-mile-per-hour changeup just over the wall in right -- the swing was reminiscent of a play last week. A week ago Monday, in Cleveland, Foulke pitched a 1-2-3 ninth in a 5-4 win. But Hafner hit a rocket to right in that ninth inning that was just foul.
Here it was gone, and Foulke had blown his third save. He needed 47 pitches, and left the park with a 5-4 record and an ERA that climbed nearly a full run to 6.03.
All of this made Wade Miller's outing a mere afterthought. Miller threw five straight balls to begin the game, trailed, 2-0, after an inning, and labored. His pitch count by inning: 27-22-7-18-24-19. With a no-decision, Miller completed June without a win, his last victory coming May 30 vs. Baltimore. He was 0-1 in five June starts a 5.46 ERA.
''First hitter of the game he threw four balls, he didn't get a chance to settle in," Francona said. ''He pitched behind in the count a lot all night. The good thing is it looked early on like it might be a short night. Thankfully it wasn't. Our offense kicked in, we took the lead."
Indeed, the Sox rallied impressively, scoring twice in the fifth -- on an Edgar Renteria RBI double and a Ramírez sacrifice fly -- and five times in the sixth. The Sox sent 10 men to the plate in the sixth, as the team tied it on Bellhorn's sacrifice fly for the second out, then scored three more times with two outs on consecutive RBI singles by David Ortiz, Ramírez (he's knocked in 24 runs in his last 14 games), and Millar. But that three-run lead didn't stand up.
Now, Cleveland is poised to do today what the Red Sox did to the Indians -- sweep them in their own ballpark.
Demoralized by the Indians' five-run ninth, the Sox went 1-2-3 in the bottom half. Payton, pinch hitter Bill Mueller, and Bellhorn all grounded out on the first pitch they saw, giving Indians closer Bob Wickman a three-pitch inning.