BOSTON (AP) – Keith Foulke was on the mound when the Boston Red Sox won their first World Series championship in 86 years. Now they may be better off putting other relievers out there.

The closer has been struggling most of the season, but manager Terry Francona isn’t ready to give the job to someone else. He wouldn’t have many choices, anyway, since most of his relievers have been shaky.

Foulke is 5-4 with a 6.03 ERA overall and 11.00 in save situations. Alan Embree is 1-4 with a 7.79 ERA and John Halama is 1-1 with a 5.82 ERA. Matt Mantei’s ERA is 4.85, but he’s been wild with 20 walks in 25 innings. Only Mike Timlin and Mike Myers have been reliable, with both having outstanding years.

Timlin even got his first save since April of last season in Wednesday’s 5-2 win over Cleveland because Foulke was unavailable after throwing 47 pitches and allowing Travis Hafner’s inning grand slam in the Indians 12-8 victory the previous night.

“If I knew I would correct it,” Foulke said. “I wouldn’t keep throwing the ball down the pipe and letting it get hammered.”

The entire bullpen rested Thursday, an off day before a three-game home series with Toronto begins tonight.

In his first season with Boston last year, Foulke was 5-3 with a 2.17 ERA and 32 saves. The previous year with Oakland he led the AL with 43 saves. And his highest ERA in his last six seasons was 2.97. His dominance continued in last year’s playoffs when he allowed one earned run and five hits in 11 innings.

He hasn’t shed much light on the reasons for his current problems that have provoked boos from Fenway Park’s fans.

“They have all the right,” Foulke said. “If they don’t want me to do the job, tell them to tell management. I’ve done a lot of good for this team, but, you know, let them boo.”

Foulke’s blown save on Tuesday was his third in 17 opportunities this year. He entered with Boston leading 8-5 and allowed two inherited runners to score in the eighth before allowing five runs in the ninth.

The Red Sox aren’t the only team with bullpen problems. On Thursday, the New York Yankees designated for assignment Paul Quantrill and Mike Stanton.

Foulke, who has two years left on his contract, appeared to be snapping out of his problems when he allowed runs in just two of his 13 appearances before Wednesday. Francona is still behind him.

“We don’t need a quarterback controversy,” Francona said. “In the last couple weeks everybody kept coming to us and saying Foulke’s great again. Well, I agree. I know he’s had a couple bumps in the road.”

But turning a middle reliever like Timlin into a closer could hurt the team.

“Sometimes those innings are maybe more important than the ninth,” Francona said. “If you start plugging one perceived hole then you create maybe a bigger one somewhere else.”

Timlin is having the best of his 15 seasons with a 1.60 ERA and 2-1 record. And Myers, usually used to face only one or two lefty hitters, is 3-1 with a 2.20 ERA.

Despite the bullpen problems, Boston went into its off day leading the AL East by two games over the Baltimore Orioles thanks to seven strong innings by Tim Wakefield in Wednesday night’s 5-2 win over Cleveland.

“I knew going into the game” that the bullpen was overworked, Wakefield said. “I’m very thankful that I was able to go seven innings.”

AP-ES-06-30-05 1848EDT


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