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Red Sox can't dig out of early hole

Red Sox can't dig out of early hole

ARLINGTON -- Tim Wakefield made his 500th appearance for the Red Sox on Saturday. By the second inning, he was already looking forward to No. 501.

"I'm not going to make any excuses," Wakefield said. "I just couldn't get the ball over the plate. It was one of those days I'd like to forget."

It's not that Wakefield's knuckleball wasn't working on Saturday night at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The problem was it was working too well. The result was a 1 2/3-inning outing for Wakefield, as his knuckleball couldn't stay in the zone and the Red Sox dropped their first game in Arlington since April 7, 2007, by a score of 15-8.

"I have no answer for it," Wakefield said. "I wish I did."

By taking the mound to start against the Rangers, Wakefield became the 23rd pitcher to ever appear in 500 games with one team, including at least 350 starts.

This start, though, turned out to be the second shortest of Wakefield's lengthy career. His shortest was a one-inning start against the Marlins on June 11, 1993 -- 369 starts ago.

On Saturday, Wakefield allowed seven runs on four hits, four walks and a hit batter. However, the start began nothing like it ended.

"I don't know that he lost it," manager Terry Francona said. "He couldn't control it. The wind was blowing and it was moving, but he just couldn't get it in the zone."

Wakefield coaxed the first five Rangers he faced into flying out. But, with just one out to go in the second and already one run to work with, Wakefield couldn't stop the bleeding.

"I felt great physically and great mentally," Wakefield said. "Everything just unfolded so fast. I tried to get a flyout or a groundout, but it just didn't happen."

It started with a double by Gerald Laird to left field. Laird advanced to third and scored on a wild pitch and passed ball. Four of the next six batters drew walks. The two who didn't singled and were hit by a pitch. Wakefield surrendered two more singles before Francona took him out of the game.

Kevin Cash was catching Wakefield and, from his perspective, Wakefield didn't lose command of his knuckleball. The Rangers just grew more patient at the plate.

"He had phenomenal movement," Cash said. "He just couldn't quite get it over the plate. It was the perfect example of him having the perfect knuckleball, but it wasn't going over the plate. "I think they realized he was throwing a good one tonight and decided to wait and see if he could control it."

Seldom-used Chris Smith entered in relief of Wakefield and picked Hank Blalock off first base to end the inning with no further damage done in the second.

Francona wanted to give Wakefield a chance to work out of his second-inning jam, but he could only wait so long.

"I'd rather not take any starter out that early, but at some point you have to make a change," Francona said.

With the score out of hand, Francona avoided using Justin Masterson, Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon, which didn't help keep the score in check.

Nelson Cruz, in particular, proved to be a thorn in the side of Red Sox relievers. He hit a two-run home run off Smith in the third inning, a solo home run off Mike Timlin in the fifth, and a two-run double in the eighth off David Pauley.

"We tried to make pitches to Cruz and when we didn't, he hit them a long way," Francona said.

By the seventh inning, with his club trailing 13-4, Francona called off the dogs, pinch-hitting for Kevin Cash and Dustin Pedroia in the seventh inning and David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis in the eight.

The flu, back spasms and personal issues kept Youkilis from playing in five of Boston's last six games, but he made the most of his time on the field Saturday. He hit a three-run home run in his second at-bat.

"That was a nice swing," Francona said. "It shouldn't be surprising, but it's nice to see him swing like that after such a long layoff. And it was big to get us to 7-4 at that point."

But six more Rangers runs the next four innings made a four-run ninth inning rally by the Red Sox inconsequential.

"It's three weeks and we've got six games left against [the Rays]," Cash said. "Tomorrow's huge. We want to win this series and put ourselves in good position when we play the Rays next week."

Shawn Shroyer is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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