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Gagne gags, Sox choke.

Byline: Bill Ballou

BALTIMORE - It was the kind of game that can turn a season around, the wrong way, and if the night of Aug. 10, 2007, marks some sort of dramatic detour in the Red Sox's march to the AL East title, no one will really know until several weeks from now.

"It was," said right fielder J.D. Drew, "one of them games."

Which was an apt description for Boston's 6-5 loss to the Orioles last night. It was a game that seemed hopelessly lost twice, once for each team, and both times in an eighth inning that was one of the most eventful of the season.

The Sox trailed, 1-0, heading into their half of it and led, 5-1, heading into Baltimore's half of it. The Orioles tied it up thanks mostly to some brutally ineffective relief by Eric Gagne, then won it on a sacrifice flare by Nick Markakis in the last of the ninth.

Since the Yankees won, Boston's lead in the AL East is back to just five games.

While Hideki Okajima was charged with the blown save, and the loss, the defeat really belonged to Gagne. He came in to begin the last of the eighth with a four-run lead, faced five batters, and gave up two doubles, a single and a walk, leaving with the score 5-4 and a runner on second.

In four appearances in a Boston uniform, Gagne has given up nine hits and six earned runs in 3-1/3 innings. His Red Sox ERA is 16.22.

When the Sox traded for him, the rationale was that you can never have enough pitching, but that old phrase really should read, "You can never have enough good pitching." Gagne's best years have been as a closer, and Boston already has Jonathan Papelbon.

Are two closers better than one? Would two goalies playing in net at the same time be better than one? Or two quarterbacks in the same backfield better than one?

Boston manager Terry Francona tried to deflect some of the blame coming Gagne's way by saying he has an adjustment to make from closer to setup man, but to his credit, Gagne was having none of it.

"That's just an excuse," Gagne said. "You've gotta get three outs. It don't matter what inning. I'm just not doing my job, and haven't for four games. That's (baloney). I'm not throwing the way I can throw, and it's making it hard on everybody else."

Gagne listed all of his pitches as villains - fastball, changeup, curveball. "It's a little bit of everything," he said. "I'm not making the pitches I have to."

Both Francona and Orioles manager Dave Trembley fell victim to the formula style of using a pitching staff, both taking out starters who had been very effective and replacing them with questionable relievers.

Daisuke Matsuzaka was the Sox starter and worked seven innings, allowing only a run in the first. He retired eight of the last nine batters he faced, one reaching via a walk, before Francona decided on Gagne for the eighth.

Erik Bedard was the Orioles' starter, and he had a two-hitter, and a 1-0 lead, going into the eighth. He got two outs in the eighth before Wily Mo Pena drove in the tying run with a soft single to center. Trembley went to Chad Bradford first - Red Sox fans know how that move usually works out - and by the time the inning was over, Boston batters had strung together five straight hits and had a 5-1 lead.

Rather than go to Okajima for the eighth, as has been customary for most of the season, Francona went with GM Theo Epstein's new acquisition in Gagne. He gave up a double to Corey Patterson, a single to Markakis, walked Miguel Tejada, got Kevin Millar on a grounder, and gave up a two-run double to Aubrey Huff.

Huff's hit should have been a two-run single to right, but Drew let it get past him, and the play was generously scored as a two-bagger. That left a man in scoring position, and Melvin Mora singled off Okajima to tie it.

"It was a situation," Drew said, "where (Gagne) had given up a lot of hard-hit balls and it came right at me. It had a lot of topspin and took a crazy hop. That's exactly what happened."

Brian Roberts opened the last of the ninth with a long double to center. He was bunted over to third, and Markakis delivered him with a sacrifice fly to center fielder Coco Crisp, a ball that did not go very deep, but deep enough to drive in the winning run, what with Crisp having a poor arm.

But not the poorest one on the Red Sox, not last night. That belonged to Gagne, and it cost Boston what could turn out to be a deadly defeat.

NAME: BOSTON RED SOX

ART: PHOTO

PHOTOG: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

CUTLINE: Red Sox right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka adjusts his cap during the third inning of Boston's game at

Baltimore.
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 11, 2007
Words:842
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