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A'S 3, RED SOX 2

Sox ground to halt

Done in again by DPs, A's pitching

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Used to be, the Red Sox didn't have to work this hard for a smile here, even in moments of high anxiety. The locals were often happy to accommodate.

It was here that former Sox pitcher Derek Lowe, trying to close out a game but struggling with his control, was startled on the mound by a man wearing only a Minnesota Vikings cap who bolted onto the field and made naked cartwheels a demonstration sport. By the time Lowe stopped laughing, he was able to relocate the strike zone and the victory was secured.

There has been no shortage of weirdness here the last two nights, but none of it has been designed to bring relief to the Sox. Last night, the Sox lost their fourth game in a row, 3-2. It was their sixth loss in seven games and third straight this week to the Athletics, who have now beaten the Sox seven straight times in McAfee Coliseum.

"Everything's just changed, the intensity, all kinds of stuff, it's not there," said a weary-looking David Ortiz of a jet-lagged Sox offense that has scored just two runs in the last 18 innings.

Is the energy missing? "I don't know. We don't have the intensity we normally have," he said. "That's my view. We have a lot of guys trying, trying, trying, but not getting it done. Hopefully, we'll come out here [this afternoon] and win."

The intensity is missing, and so are the hits. Coco Crisp is 0 for 7 here, 4 for his last 29 overall. Julio Lugo is 1 for 10 here, 3 for his last 22. Dustin Pedroia, whose 14-game hitting streak came to an end Tuesday, is 1 for 10. Mike Lowell is 1 for 9.

J.D. Drew, meanwhile, remains anchored to the bench after being lifted for a pinch hitter Monday night, a damning indictment of his flimsy start. Drew, batting .159 in his last 33 games, sat for the second straight game against a lefthander until drawing a walk as a pinch hitter with two outs in the ninth against Santiago Ca silla last night, his deployment in that role a marker of how desperate the Sox were for a hit.

The Sox, who had not lost more than two in a row until arriving here after a red-eye flight Sunday, will try to salvage the final game of this four-game set this afternoon behind Curt Schilling, who will try to accomplish what Tim Wakefield last night could not do despite his best efforts.

Tuesday night, the Sox lost to former spare part Lenny DiNardo, who became the first opposing pitcher in at least 50 years to craft this bizarre pitching line at their expense: six innings, six walks, no whiffs, no runs.

The Sox grounded into four double plays that night, and hit into a fifth when Pedroia hit the deck trying to avoid a broken bat, then slipped and fell before he could retreat to safety.

Last night, the double plays remained at epidemic levels, the Sox grounding into three more in the first five innings against lefthander Joe Kennedy. That made it four times in the last six games that the Sox registered three or more DPs. "That's crazy, man," Ortiz said.

And the frustration spilled over when Francona was ejected in the eighth inning by plate umpire Dan Iassogna, whose antenna was already pointed at the Sox dugout after Ortiz took furious exception to a checked-swing strike called by Iassogna two innings earlier.

There have been eight big-league managers ejected in just the first six days of June, though Francona, while stretching Iassogna's ears with a verbal blast after he was tossed, did nothing like Cubs manager Lou Piniella did to earn a four-day vacation.

"I gestured it was up," Francona said when asked why he was run.

Is that outlawed these days? "I don't know, tonight it was," he said. "It's not why we lost the game. It's not good for my blood pressure, but it didn't have much to do with the outcome of the game."

Oakland, meanwhile, seized the advantage against Wakefield with a rally that began with an innocuous ground ball by Eric Chavez turned toxic when it struck the first-base bag and bounded high over the head of Kevin Youkilis into right field for a double.

Chavez took third on a wild pitch, but it looked like he might be stuck there when Dan Johnson rolled out to Pedroia against a drawn-in infield. But Shannon Stewart walked and Jack Cust, whose 15 minutes of fame seems about to expire (8 homers in his first 13 games, .154 his last 10), hit Wakefield's first pitch into the right-field corner for a double. Bobby Crosby then singled home two more runs.

"I had Crosby 1-and-2, tried to throw him a hard one and bury it in the dirt, but I left it up and that was the end of it," Wakefield said.

Those were the only runs allowed by Wakefield, who was coming off four stinkers (1-3, 9.13 ERA) but last night struck out eight in 6 2/3 innings.

The Sox, however, could do little with Kennedy, who continued a remarkable string of performances by Athletics starting pitchers. In nine games on their homestand, Athletics starters are 6-1 with a 1.29 ERA.

The Sox, held to three singles Tuesday night, managed just four singles through six innings last night. They finally broke through in the seventh, when Manny Ramírez doubled and Youkilis tripled him home. Wily Mo Peña's infield out scored Youkilis with the second run.

But Oakland manager Bob Geren, who cut his teeth in the Sox system, made skillful use of his bullpen the rest of the night. Ortiz blooped a two-out single off lefthander Jay Marshall in the eighth, but Casilla, just called up Sunday, retired Ramirez on a flyball.

Casilla, who was the winning pitcher in Monday's 5-4, 11-inning A's win, then set down the side in the ninth, but not before walking Drew with two outs. Jason Varitek grabbed a bat and pinch hit, but he flied out to end it.

Gordon Edes can be reached at edes@globe.com.

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