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Francona determined not to give up on Gagné

He'll keep using faltering pitcher

TORONTO - On the day after, manager Terry Francona was unwavering in his support of reliever Eric Gagné. Even before Gagné blew a save in Tuesday's 4-3 loss to the Blue Jays, Francona said he told the reliever, "We'll do it again, in case you were wondering."

"I told him, 'This is what we're going to do, and it's going to work.' If I didn't think it would work, I wouldn't tell it," said Francona. "There's a difference between telling someone something for a confidence factor [and] saying it and believing it. Sometimes they're two different things. I believe it. I think we need him. And I think he'll do it. I don't think we're completely there yet."

That would be an understatement. So far, Gagné has failed miserably in the role for which he was imported. The 2003 National League Cy Young Award winner has pitched 15 times for the Red Sox since coming from Texas in a deadline trade. He has given up 14 earned runs in 14 innings, an earned run average of 9.00. He has a win, two losses, and three blown saves.

Tuesday night, he walked three, missing horribly at times, especially in Matt Stairs's at-bat, in which he was ahead, 0 and 2, then wasn't close with his next three pitches, all fastballs, before throwing a changeup that also missed, down and in. Gagné had walked as many as three only once before in 289 appearances since the start of the 2002 season.

Francona said afterward that Gagné was overthrowing, but that doesn't explain why the reliever abandoned his changeup, the pitch that made him unhittable during his salad days with the Dodgers.

But even as the regular season dwindled to the last 10 games, Francona rejected the suggestion that time is running out on Gagné, and that the Sox need to explore other alternatives.

"Time isn't running out," Francona said. "I think we have a lot more baseball to play. I don't agree with that statement.

"Ten games, he can probably make five appearances if we want. That's a significant amount. Ten games is a long time. [He could make] probably more appearances than that if you want, because of the days off."

Francona was irritated by published reports that closer Jonathan Papelbon was warming up when the Jays rallied against Gagné in the eighth inning. Papelbon had stood up in the bullpen and made a couple of tosses, but he wasn't standing on the mound and never warmed up.

Reviewing the inning, Francona said the Sox could have rushed Papelbon to get ready and brought him in with two on and two out. "He gives up a single, now you've rushed Paps and it's a tie game. Sometimes the game, you just have to play the game.

"Would we have had time to get Paps up? Yeah, if we'd rushed him. The way the inning unfolded, sometimes you have to play the percentages."

Francona said Gagné, shut down for a time because of some shoulder tenderness, had had enough outings in the interim to be used in a close game. "The timing for me was almost perfect," Francona said. "The outcome wasn't."

Rest for Okajima

Francona owned up to the fact that reliever Hideki Okajima needed a break. Call it fatigue, call it dead arm, call it a chance to work on his overall conditioning a la Curt Schilling in June, but Okajima is likely to sit for a few more days, Francona said. Lit up last Friday for four runs by the Yankees - he gave up his first two home runs all season to lefthanded hitters - Okajima since Aug. 1 has a 7.04 ERA in 17 appearances, in six of which he has been scored upon. He has allowed 17 hits, including four home runs and five walks, in 15 1/3 innings.

Okajima has alluded to being tired in recent weeks, but yesterday spoke more of a conditioning issue. "I wasn't perfect," he said through a translator, "so I'm trying to bring my conditioning level up to that perfect level. It's not particularly about my pitching, but my overall condition. The team came to me and said, 'Let's bring it to a 100 percent level.' "

Francona offered no specifics, but when asked if it was anything more complicated than Okajima going through a dead arm period, he replied, "No, it's not more complicated. We just felt it was the right thing to do."

Missing links

The three walking wounded - Manny Ramírez, Coco Crisp, and Kevin Youkilis - all remained sidelined. Ramírez missed his 21st game with a strained left oblique, while Crisp missed his second with a stiff back. He also didn't start last Friday night, but pinch ran and was thrown out attempting to steal. Youkilis missed his fourth game since being hit on the right wrist by the Yankees' Chien-Ming Wang. Youkilis did some dry swinging and played catch again with trainer Paul Lessard, so there is some progress, Francona said. Francona defended Ramírez's continued absence from the lineup, reiterating that the muscle continues to grab him while running. "Frustrated? I'm frustrated that we don't have him back in the lineup," said Francona. "I told him that yesterday. I said, 'You're so damn good, we want you in there every day.' It's hard for me to give him a day off in the season, just because of his presence. But he's just not ready to play. His work ethic has been very good. I know that over the course of the years, there have been some hiccups with him. I know, I've been a part of some of them. But this isn't one of them." Francona said he is confident Ramírez will be ready for the playoffs . . . Sox play-by-play man Don Orsillo has landed a national gig in the postseason. The NESN announcer will work one of the four best-of-five Division Series for TBS.

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