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ATHLETICS 2, RED SOX 0

Sox held at bay

DiNardo and A's keep them in a fog

OAKLAND, Calif.--Until Valentine's Day, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Lenny DiNardo were Red Sox teammates. But then the Sox needed to clear a spot to add outfielder J.D. Drew to the roster, and DiNardo was gone, claimed on waivers by the Oakland Athletics.

Last night, Matsuzaka and DiNardo started against each other, a mismatch of epic proportions by most measures, including the pay envelope: Matsuzaka $52 million for six years, DiNardo $389,750 this season. Perks? DiNardo, if he was lucky, got a ride to the airport when he was let go. At least DiNardo had a World Series ring in his possession, something that even Matsuzaka's contract can't provide on demand.

But DiNardo did something against the Sox that he was never able to do for them in seven career starts. The 27-year-old lefthander held them scoreless, and when four Oakland relievers did the same, he conquered Matsuzaka and the Red Sox, 2-0, before a crowd of 31,127 in McAfee Coliseum.

The Sox hit into more double plays (5) than they had hits (3), which offset the six walks DiNardo issued in six innings. All three Sox hits were singles, by Julio Lugo in the first, David Ortiz in the sixth, and Mike Lowell (off reliever Kiki Calero) in the seventh.

The last double play was the weirdest, rookie Dustin Pedroia, who had been hit by a pitch, dropping to the ground to avoid a hunk of Ortiz's bat that went airborne when the Sox DH lined softly to third baseman Eric Chavez in the eighth. Pedroia was still prone when Chavez flipped to first baseman Nick Swisher to double him up.

"He took a step, the bat came flying by," manager Terry Francona said. "He lost the ball and fell. That's the kind of night it was."

Matsuzaka, meanwhile, lost his second straight start after winning his previous six decisions. He threw 130 pitches in seven innings, the most damaging an 0-and-2 fastball that Chavez clocked for an opposite-field home run for the game's first run in the fourth. Chavez had sent the Sox to defeat the night before with an 11th-inning walkoff home run off Kyle Snyder.

"Tek [Jason Varitek] called for a fastball high and inside," Matsuzaka said through translator Masa Hoshino. "I left it high and over the plate. That was my own mistake. That was a preventable home run."

Oakland's other run came in the fifth, when Nick Swisher's two-out double into the left-field corner scored Jason Kendall, who had walked.

The Sox have lost five of their last six games, their lead in the American League East less than double digits for the first time since May 17. They lead second-place Toronto by nine games after losing for the sixth straight time in McAfee.

"The Red Sox are a team that doesn't lose many games often," Matsuzaka said. "I felt a sense of urgency to stop the losing skid.

"If the team had won, I could say I had done my fair share, but I gave up a home run that was preventable, and on the second run, if I had stayed ahead in the count, I could have prevented the second run. So I'm disappointed. I left with a few regrets."

DiNardo, meanwhile, was left with a feeling of satisfaction that he experienced only once with the Sox in parts of three seasons, the feeling that comes with winning.

"No hard feelings whatever," DiNardo said of parting ways with the Sox. "I'm in a good situation here."

While DiNardo was in the game, Oakland turned four double plays, including an acrobatic one started by shortstop Bobby Crosby one batter after he'd booted a ground ball for an error in the fourth. DiNardo, who escaped a bases-loaded jam in the first when Lowell flied out to left, loaded the bases again in the sixth on two walks and a base hit by Ortiz. But he escaped when he shattered Kevin Youkilis's bat on (what else?) a double-play grounder.

Thus, despite throwing more balls (47) than strikes (42), DiNardo was in line for a victory when the Athletics ushered him to safety, manager Bob Geren summoning Calero from the bullpen.

Matsuzaka (7-4) had lost for the first time in eight starts last Wednesday against Cleveland, a defeat that started the first real slide in Sox fortunes.

Matsuzaka struck out eight through six innings, but did not have an inning in which he set the side down in order until the seventh. Mark Ellis, who hit for the cycle Monday night, singled and stole second in the first, but advanced no farther. Jack Cust hit a two-out single in the second but was left there when Mark Kotsay was called out on strikes.

Matsuzaka was faced with a first-and-third, two-out dilemma after singles by Travis Buck and Swisher in the third, but slipped away unharmed when Dan Johnson lined to center.

Chavez jumped on Matsuzaka to open the fourth, Manny Ramirez barely moving as the ball left the premises.

The Sox have given up four home runs this season on 0-and-2 pitches. This was the second in three games, Jonathan Papelbon having been beaten Sunday night when Alex Rodriguez homered in the ninth.

"We've given up more hits than we're comfortable with on 0-and-2 pitches," Francona said, "but that wasn't a bad pitch. That pitch was head-high. But we've seen Chavy do that.

"We've given up 0-and-2 hits. That was kind of addressed going into the series. But that wasn't a mistake. That pitch was out of the zone."

An inning later, Jason Kendall drew a walk, only the second issued by Matsuzaka, and came around to score on Swisher's two-out double. Johnson took a called third strike to end the inning.

Chavez opened the sixth with a single, but Matsuzaka proceeded to set down the next six Athletics.

The Sox threatened against Calero in the seventh, Lowell leading off with a base hit. After Varitek took a called third strike, Wily Mo Peña drew a walk. But left fielder Buck made a nice sliding catch in the Oakland bullpen to retrieve Coco Crisp's foul fly, and Lugo popped to second.

The Sox had not grounded into four double plays in a game in 14 months, the last time in Baltimore on April 7, 2006.

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