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A'S 2, RED SOX 1

Offense is absent in 5th straight loss

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The margin of error is so tiny that Josh Beckett was actually chiding himself for throwing a fastball high and away to Eric Chavez in the fourth inning that resulted in the A's first run.

``That was a dumb pitch to Chavez," Beckett said following the Red Sox' 2-1 loss to the A's before 30,517 at McAfee Coliseum last night. ``We were outplayed in every aspect of the game."

A pitcher isn't supposed to utter those words on a night when he works seven innings and allows two runs on five hits. But Beckett did, because the Boston offense is so pathetic now that it would be inhumane to be critical of it.

It's an offense that, with a total of six hits last night, made Kirk Saarloos look like a star. An offense that has produced 17 runs in eight games. An offense that, without Manny Ramírez, David Ortiz, Trot Nixon, and Jason Varitek, is now a collection of glorified Triple A hitters.

``Its a big difference," said Saarloos (7-6), ``but at the same time, nobody felt sorry for us without Bobby [Crosby] and Rich Harden and minus a bunch of guys. But I'd be lying to you if it didn't make a difference."

For the most part, Red Sox starting pitchers have nothing to complain about when it comes to offensive support. They've pitched so badly over the last 38 games -- only eight times has a starter gone seven or more innings -- that they can't point the finger at anyone else.

But Beckett could have sued for nonsupport last night.

The best chance the Sox had to tie the game came in the seventh when they got back-to-back singles by Carlos Peña and Doug Mirabelli with one out. But Dustin Pedroia grounded to first, and with men on second and third, Coco Crisp struck out to end the inning.

The Crisp at-bat was the story in a nutshell. In losing their fifth straight game -- and 13th of 16 -- the Sox couldn't get that one big hit with men in scoring position that might have started some momentum.

Beckett allowed the two runs and threw 104 pitches in his 28th start. He walked three and gave up those five hits before Terry Francona brought in Manny Delcarmen to start the eighth.

``We're beaten up," said Beckett. ``It's tough to lose one-half of your lineup and compete against the leaders of divisions, but we've got another month, and nobody is gonna quit.

``We take this [expletive] seriously. We've got to win tomorrow."

Last Thursday, Beckett sustained a cut on the side of his right middle finger as he worked six innings in a 2-1 win over the Angels (the Sox' last triumph). But the wound healed quickly and Beckett was able to pitch effectively last night. He said he had no problem with the finger and was able to throw his breaking pitches.

The Sox were actually superb in the field behind him. Crisp made one of his finest catches of the season, an all-out dive at a sinking liner in left-center to rob Jay Payton and end the fourth inning. And in the eighth, left fielder Kevin Youkilis cut off a Frank Thomas single that was headed to the left-center gap, made a strong throw to cutoff man Alex Cora, and Cora gunned down Mark Kotsay at the plate.

Not that it mattered, as the Sox offense could muster nothing in the ninth.

``You have to make big-league plays," said Youkilis. ``With the way things are going, you have to make all the plays and hope you can get something going offensively. We just didn't."

Francona said the Sox were trying to manufacture runs, hoping to steal more bases, but ``we never got into a situation where we were able to run."

The A's took a 1-0 lead just before the Crisp diving catch, when Chavez doubled in Thomas from first on the pitch Beckett was bemoaning. They added a run in the fifth when Mark Ellis's sacrifice fly to right scored Marco Scutaro, who had legged out a triple to right-center with one out.

The Sox came in hitting .184 as a team (47 for 256) over their last eight games; they were also hitting .184 with runners in scoring position over that span, including an 0-for-7 in Monday's 9-0 loss, the second time they were shut out on this trip.

They failed on their first chance with a runner in scoring position in the second (Peña struck out and Mirabelli flied out with Youkilis on second), but in the sixth, Eric Hinske was able to roll a single up the middle to score Youkilis, who had doubled with two outs off Saarloos.

But life without Ortiz and Ramírez isn't good.

``I've just never seen so many injuries at one time," said Mark Loretta. ``I talked to my dad and he said, `Just do what you can do. You don't have control over those things. You can't go out there and try to be Ortiz. And Kevin can't go out there and try to be Manny.' "

``You just can't dwell on the big picture," said Mike Lowell. ``You have to play the game and concentrate on the game. If you start thinking about the rest of it, it's just too big.

``Win today. Win tomorrow. That's the attitude we have to take. We have professional baseball players capable of getting on base and scoring runs."

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