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UP NEXT: RAYS VS. RED SOX

SCOUTING REPORT: All that has happened to the Red Sox since they left the Trop on Thursday is that they lost two of three pressure-packed games at Yankee Stadium, falling four games behind the Yankees and causing spirits across New England to drop.

Native pessimism aside, the Sox still have one of the best all-around teams in the league, combining a potent offense that features speed, power and average with a deep and versatile pitching staff.

This afternoon, the Sox start knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who always gives the Rays fits. Tonight they send out Derek Lowe, who no-hit the Rays in April and merely controlled them in two other outings. Frank Castillo, the Sox's only sub-.500 starter, goes Wednesday, and ace Pedro Martinez looms Thursday.

Closer Ugueth Urbina has been steady, though it will be interesting to see if there is any carryover from his ninth-inning meltdown Sunday.

Manager Grady Little has been tinkering with the batting order since the offense has sputtered a bit, a primary reason the Sox are 33-32 since their major league-best 24-7 start.

TAMPA BAY CONNECTIONS: Rolando Arrojo was the Rays' first All-Star, signed after defecting from Cuba. John Burkett was released by the Rays in spring training 2000. Rays catcher John Flaherty broke in with the Red Sox. Rays coach Billy Hatcher played for the Sox in the early '90s.

ALL-TIME SERIES: The Rays have lost all eight games this season (scoring 16 and hitting .153) and 22 of 27 since 2000. Overall, the Sox lead 41-23.

WHO'S HOT: 3B Shea Hillenbrand hit .370 (17-for-46) on the 11-game road trip.

WHO'S NOT: Nomar Garciaparra, even after two homers Sunday, finished the trip 10-for-45 (.222) and with a major league-shortstop high 16 errors.

_ MARC TOPKIN

Up next:IN BRIEF

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