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No free passes after this costly outing

It won't be anywhere as dramatic as the Tampa Summit called by their Yankee cousins earlier this week, but with Theo and the Trio on the premises last night, bearing witness to the Sox' 15-2 demolition by the Toronto Blue Jays, there will be changes, starting tonight.

There are no immediate plans to start handing out pink slips, the way the Yankees did with relievers Paul Quantrill and Mike Stanton, both of whom were designated for assignment earlier this week. Although Sox reliever Matt Mantei apparently is not headed for the unemployment line, he could be headed for the disabled list after meeting with manager Terry Francona after last night's game. While insisting his arm is ''great," Mantei hinted there is something amiss physically that has contributed to a nightmarish month-long stretch, culminating in last night's five-run, four-walk, one-hit one-third of an inning.

If Mantei, whose mechanics are noticeably different from the pitcher who saved 29 games for Arizona in 2003 (in the absence of arm trouble, could he, like Curt Schilling, be favoring an ankle?) has to go on the DL, the Sox might reach down to their minor league system. Not for another reliever -- not yet -- but for a starter, because tonight's scheduled starter, David Wells, has physical issues of his own -- plantar fasciitis in his foot.

Jeremi Gonzalez has been Pawtucket's best starter and was an earlier call-up, but he pitched last night for Pawtucket. Lefthander Lenny DiNardo, who has limited big league experience, pitched the night before. Scheduled to pitch tonight for the PawSox is Chris Narveson, the lefthander who came from Colorado in the B.K. Kim deal. He could be summoned on an emergency basis tonight. The other possibility may be in Portland, where top prospect Jon Papelbon is scheduled to pitch tonight for the Sea Dogs. Papelbon missed his last start with a hip flexor and was lit up in his previous outing, one observed by GM Theo Epstein, but the Sox liked him enough this spring to give him a start in Florida, and showed last season with Abe Alvarez that they have no compunction about calling up a Double A pitcher.

Clearly, the status quo cannot continue, not with Mantei unable to throw a strike. He threw 32 pitches last night, only 13 for strikes. After getting the last out in the sixth, Mantei walked the first three batters in the seventh, gave up a two-run double to Eric Hinske, then walked one more batter before Francona lifted him.

The game was lost even before Mantei's breakdown. Matt Clement's next-to-last start before the All-Star break was not a happy one, as the Jays hit him with an eight-spot in 5 2/3 innings, as the normally reliable Mike Myers, facing righthanded pinch hitter Reed Johnson, gave up a grand slam.

But while that was a cover-your-eyes moment, it still paled against Mantei's struggles, which have gone on too long. In 13 games since June 1, Mantei has walked 15 and allowed nine hits in just 9 1/3 innings. With a yield of 15 earned runs, Mantei's ERA in that stretch is 14.46, raising his overall ERA to 6.49. Only Alan Embree, whose ERA actually dropped to 7.83 after a mop-up scoreless ninth, has a higher ERA among Sox relievers.

''I'm just struggling," Mantei said before heading for a brief session with Francona and pitching coach Dave Wallace, one which was not attended by Epstein, who did not come to the clubhouse while reporters were present.

''It's been a little bit of everything. Give me time to figure out what's going on."

Mantei waved off the notion that the Sox would not give him that time and might jettison him instead.

''I'm not worried about that," he said. ''Just go out and pitch. I don't think about stuff like that. I've got to think I'll get out of it eventually, but it hasn't happened yet."

The 31-year-old Mantei, whose potential as a dominant closer was sabotaged by elbow and shoulder injuries that have made him a perpetual occupant of the DL throughout his career, said he has never endured a stretch as rough as this one.

When someone suggested his lack of command usually bespeaks physical problems, he said: ''Yeah. I've been in a funk. I've got to do some soul-searching, see what's going on. I'll keep you guys informed."

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