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After Wakefield's exit, pen rocked early, often

Reliever Chris Smith didn't provide any relief as Nelson Cruz smashed the first of his two home runs off the Sox' pen. Reliever Chris Smith didn't provide any relief as Nelson Cruz smashed the first of his two home runs off the Sox' pen. (Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press)
By Adam Kilgore
Globe Staff / September 7, 2008
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ARLINGTON, Texas - Terry Francona hopped up the steps of the visitors' dugout last night before the sun had even set, an uncomfortable chore made nearly unbearable by its timing. Not two innings had elapsed, and already Francona needed to pull Tim Wakefield.

He knows what yanking a starting pitcher so early most often portends.

"You've got a long haul ahead of yourself," Francona said.

The bullpen, rather than cleaning up the mess Wakefield swiftly created, dashed what had been its most promising stint of the season. In 6 1/3 shield-your-eyes innings, the bullpen surrendered 8 runs, 12 hits, and 2 walks. Eight of those hits went for extra bases - three more than Red Sox relievers had allowed in the previous 11 games combined.

The perpetrators - Chris Smith, (briefly) Javier Lopez, Mike Timlin, and David Pauley - started buzzing in the bullpen while several fans were still settling into their seats. The largest beneficiary - Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz - mashed two home runs, off Smith and Timlin, that traveled a combined 861 feet.

Timlin's meltdown stuck out most. He faced 11 batters, four of whom scored and five of whom belted hits, and his ERA shot to 5.56.

But, without question, preventing the Red Sox offense from staying in the game after Wakefield dug a seven-run hole was a group effort.

"It's part of our job," said Pauley, who pitched the final two innings and allowed two runs. "We're out there to help out in that kind of situation. We were ready. It was just one of those days."

The bullpen, criticized for much of the season as the Red Sox' weakest component, had compiled its most effective stretch before last night's implosion. Through Aug. 23, after 129 games, the Red Sox bullpen carried a 3.93 ERA and had earned 16 of Boston's 52 losses.

Over the past 11 games before last night, the bullpen allowed six runs in 34 2/3 innings, good for a 1.56 ERA. Only one loss, which Jason Giambi won with a walkoff single in New York, belonged to the bullpen.

The responsibility for last night's loss lies squarely on Wakefield, but the bullpen did nothing to help him. Smith entered first, allowing Cruz's first home run, a 444-foot clout to the grassy hill over the center-field fence. Smith recorded six outs, but Rangers smashed line drives at outfielders for three of them.

Shortly after Timlin strode to the mound to start the fifth, the game ventured out of reach. The Rangers pummeled Timlin's pitches all over the park - a triple by Brandon Boggs down the right-field line, another off the center-field fence by Josh Hamilton, a double to left by Gerald Laird. The same problems that plagued Smith had reared themselves with a new pitcher.

"We left some balls up over the plate," catcher Kevin Cash said. "We got some guys in two-strike situations and just couldn't make the pitch to put them away."

With Josh Beckett limited to 80 pitches Friday in his return from the disabled list, Boston's relievers had already accounted for four innings. Wakefield's exit shortly after the national anthem ceased echoing, ensured they would need to pitch 10 1/3 in two days.

Still, "we're fine," Francona said. Francona held back Manny Delcarmen, Justin Masterson, Hideki Okajima, and Jonathan Papelbon, all of whom will be fresh today. Those pitchers will be charged with making certain yesterday was merely a blip, not the restarting of a trend.

"A day like this is tough for anybody," Pauley said. "When it's everybody, it's really tough. You second-guess a lot of things. You just go back out there, and we got another one tomorrow."

Adam Kilgore can be reached at akilgore@globe.com

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