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TIGERS 3, RED SOX 2

A case of the drops

Red Sox lose more ground when Tigers get ninth life

Confusion reigned. Was the ball fair or foul? Was Craig Monroe out at first? What, exactly, had just transpired?

None of the answers was immediately apparent. But, as the minutes ticked off and Detroit manager Jim Leyland and first base umpire Bruce Froemming went tete-a-tete by the first base bag, everything became remarkably clear.

Fair ball, which clanked off Wily Mo Peña's glove for the single that scored Carlos Guillen from third with the Tigers' go-ahead run in their 3-2 victory in front of 36,179 mildly unsure fans at Fenway Park last night. Out, with Peña's relay to Kevin Youkilis just catching Monroe off first for the second out of the inning. And, finally, a win for the Tigers, which was unfortunate for the Red Sox both because they had already lost a game to Detroit in this series and because it had seemed that David Ortiz had started to provide the magic that would result in a win.

``It was a little bit of everything," manager Terry Francona said. ``I'm sure [Peña] felt the stands coming, knew he needed to catch it and get rid of it. Probably tried to do everything a little too quick and couldn't handle it.

``I mean, I knew they were going to send Guillen. From where [Peña] was, it would have probably been bang-bang. Just tried to probably do it a little too quick."

With Guillen on third base and one out, Monroe lofted a pop fly to right, where the stands meet the foul line. Peña, going full throttle toward the short fence, had the ball tick off his glove with his body in fair territory and his hands in foul. Guillen, who was going home whether Peña caught it or not (and likely would have been safe whether Peña caught it or not), scored what proved to be the winning run just before Peña caught Monroe a step off first for the second out.

``That foul up, it's my fault," Peña said. ``What can I do about that? Nothing. Come with my mind clean tomorrow, it's another day.

``I do the best I can, like always. I tried to catch that ball. As soon as I saw that ball foul, saw that little wall so close to me, I don't know how I'm going to get ready to throw. That's baseball."

The inning, in its game-deciding glory, took the focus off what had been stellar performances by both starting pitchers, each of whom gave up two earned runs in an impressive outing. While Detroit's Jeremy Bonderman was living up to his record and ERA -- and continuing to confuse anyone who remembers his 19-loss season in 2003 -- Curt Schilling was matching him nearly pitch for pitch, as the game zipped through the first six innings.

``If I'm starting a major league team and I get five young pitchers in the big leagues, he's on my list," Schilling said of Bonderman. ``He's one of the best pitchers and definitely one of the top two or three young pitchers in the game. I knew going in I was going to have to outpitch him, thought I was going to, and couldn't get it done.

``It's incredibly frustrating. When I was a younger pitcher, one of my things I was most proud of was I always felt like I was my own closer. I got stronger later. My last four starts, I think I've given up nine or more hits. A lot late.

``Except for maybe the Anaheim game [six runs over five innings], I don't feel like they're tearing the cover off the ball. Balls are falling, for whatever that's worth."

After breezing through five scoreless innings -- with a first-and-third, one-out hiccup in the fourth and another Mike Lowell-to-Doug Mirabelli play-at-the-plate hiccup in the sixth -- Schilling left a hanging splitter over the plate to Sean Casey, and a 1-0 lead provided by Coco Crisp's homer was erased. With Guillen and Ivan Rodriguez aboard with singles to start the seventh inning, Casey took that splitter out to the right-center gap, the ball rolling all the way to the bullpen fence.

That was when Schilling became Schilling. With Casey on second, no outs, and the two runs in, Schilling struck out Monroe and Omar Infante, both swinging, to bring up Curtis Granderson. With his fastball consistently at 95 miles per hour, Schilling fooled Granderson into a reaching for a low splitter away for his third straight strikeout and an end to the seventh, trailing just 2-1.

It seemed, though, that the Red Sox would again get that extra something from Ortiz. With Crisp aboard in the eighth on a legged-out infield single, Ortiz stepped to the plate with two outs and the ubiquitous ``MVP" chant going. Ortiz sent a line drive through the shift, to the right of second baseman Rodriguez -- yes, Pudge was forced to move to second base after Placido Polanco left with a separated shoulder in the seventh -- to push Crisp across with the tying run.

As if anything else could have happened.

But Ortiz couldn't get himself home, and neither could Manny Ramírez, who grounded to third to end the inning.

So it was that the Red Sox dropped another game behind the Yankees, comeback winners over the Orioles. They got a boost from the Royals, who beat the White Sox, putting the deficit in both the division and the wild card at three games.

There's something wrong, clearly, as the Sox have lost 14 of their last 23 games. Two opinions were proffered, one by losing pitcher Mike Timlin, one by starting pitcher Schilling.

``We've been throwing the ball really well," Timlin said. ``I'm not calling anybody out, but we haven't scored a whole lot. We're pitching well, we're holding teams down, and they're doing the same to us."

And Schilling?

``We have to outpitch," Schilling said. ``We have to outpitch the other teams. We'll have our nights where we're going to score like any other team, but we're going to have to pitch more consistently and better. If we don't, we'll be playing golf in October instead of baseball.

``The responsibility falls on us. I sure as hell don't want anybody backing away from that. That's part of where you make your reputation, as a starting pitcher and for relievers, after August. These are the biggest games of the year."

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