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Jackie MacMullan

No relief in sight for Gagné

Would the Red Sox have gone to Eric Gagne in such a crucial situation if they had any other choice? The Boston Globe's Jackie MacMullan doesn't think so. She also previews Game 3 in Cleveland. http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1243816207http://www.brightcove.com/channel.jsp?channel=245991542

Ouch.

The wounds are multiple in the wake of Boston's bewildering 13-6 loss to the Cleveland Indians in 11 innings last night at Fenway Park. The obvious and most damaging byproduct is the Red Sox have suddenly coughed up home-field advantage in the American League Championship Series by letting this game slip through their grasp.

It goes beyond that, naturally. The locals thought they had survived a shaky outing from their usually redoubtable playoff pitcher, Curt Schilling. They hoped they would be able to keep the Indians at bay with their deep, reliable bullpen, and they did that through four scoreless innings.

But as Saturday night droned into Sunday morning, the Red Sox ran out of time, pitchers, and options, leaving the fate of this ballgame in the hands of Eric Gagné and Javier Lopez.

The results were nothing short of devastating. Gagné set the table for the loss by giving up a single and a walk, then Lopez spectacularly imploded by getting whacked for three runs. Francona gave him the hook and went to Jon Lester, but he, too, proved to be a disaster, serving up a three-run home run to Franklin Gutierrez, who had not come close to scratching out a hit in the game to that point.

With all the twists and turns that had tormented the patient, yet frigid crowd of 37,051, certainly one of the more sobering was the 11th-inning appearance of Gagné, who has been consistently inconsistent throughout his brief tenure with the Red Sox.

Nearly everyone in the park was expecting the worst, and they got it. Gagné had been called upon for mop-up duty in Game 1 and promptly loaded the bases before eventually striking out the side and escaping unscathed. It was assumed he would not be used at any pivotal point in this series unless it was absolutely necessary.

Unfortunately for Boston, the situation in the 11th fit the bill.

Manager Terry Francona had already shot his wad of reliable bullpen arms by using Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima, Mike Timlin, and closer Jonathan Papelbon (for scoreless innings in the ninth and 10th). That left him Lopez, Lester, Wakefield, and Gagné as candidates to pitch the 11th with the score knotted 6-6.

He went with the bearded one, and Gagné momentarily rewarded Francona by punching out Casey Blake. But then Grady Sizemore singled and Asdrubal Cabrera walked. You could hear the collective moans from Athol to Yarmouth as Gagné, his head down, left the mound.

Francona turned to Lopez to face pinch hitter Trot Nixon, the same Nixon who was Boston's lovable right fielder for 10 seasons. Nixon fell out of favor here in part because he could not hit lefties. His regular-season average with Cleveland was .224 against lefthanded pitching, but it only took him one pitch before he found the one he wanted. He knocked a single to center field and drove in what turned out to be the winning run.

While the 11th-inning collapse was a collaborative effort, the blame will land squarely on the shoulders of Gagné, whose acquisition July 31 was met with great anticipation. The former lights-out closer was brought in to help bolster an already strong bullpen that included Papelbon and Okajima, but Gagné never earned the confidence of his new team. He could not get batters out and had too few clean innings to be relied on in crucial situations.

And yet Boston found itself doing just that - relying on an ineffective reliever who could not get the job done.

He wasn't the only one last night. It would be impossible to ask more from David Ortiz and Manny Ramírez up to this point, but they were unable to keep the magic alive in the late innings, when their club desperately needed one of their customary clutch hits.

It was the kind of game that was incredibly demoralizing to let slip away, particularly since the Red Sox had already endured an uncharacteristically spotty performance from Schilling, who never found his groove. The big righty, whose calling card has been postseason excellence, epitomized a night in which both sides had no choice but to grind it out.

Boston surmised it had seized the reins of this game with a three-run third in which hot-shot starter Fausto Carmona was forced to throw 39 pitches. But Boston's 3-1 lead evaporated an inning later when Jhonny Peralta teed off on a Schilling fastball for a three-run shot and a 4-3 Cleveland edge.

That momentum was negated in the fifth when back-to-back homers by Ramírez (a two-run shot) and Mike Lowell again gave the home team the upper hand by the slimmest of margins, 6-5.

It was shaping up to be a game of epic proportions until it all came crashing down in the 11th.

"It's kind of stating the obvious we didn't win tonight, we'll go have our workout in 10 hours," said Francona. "Again, I don't think it's realistic to run through the postseason without losing."

Francona said that until that final inning, this game was one of the most exciting and compelling he had ever been involved in.

"If this one does us in, then we're not as good as we thought we were," he said.

He's right. But forgive Red Sox Nation if they hope their team doesn't have to reach this far back in their bullpen again in this series.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail is macmullan@globe.com.

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