The Red Sox have been worn out, beaten up, and suffering through a bad case of the flu. All of that combines to make you light headed, and perhaps a bit forgetful. So, last Thursday, after losing their second game in a row to the Angels, the players were told to pack for the trip to Florida. Well, it appears that they completely forget to pack their offense in their overnight bags, but at least the pitching and defense were packed with care. Last night Josh Beckett pitched a fine game, but like Clay Buchholz the night before, ho got no run support. I thought something magical was in the works as I watched Beckett strike out eight batters in the first three innings. Visions of Roger Clemens' single game strikeout record were dancing in my head. Alas, Beckett was masterful, but topped out at 13 strikeouts for the game, which just happens to be his career high.
The Rays scored their first run in bizarre fashion. In the third inning with one out, Jason Bartlett reached first on a single. With a 2-0 count on the next batter, Beckett threw three straight pick-off attempts to first base, but the third one was off line behind the runner and Kevin Youkilis could not get to it. The ball had legs and sailed down the line, caromed off the wall and continued deep into right field, finally getting picked up by JD Drew in the bullpen area. JD muffed the throw back to the infield, and by the time the Sox got a handle on the ball, Bartlett had crossed the plate for the first run of the game. I'm not sure I've ever seen a runner score from first on a missed pick-off attempt.
Beckett lasted 7 innings, and his only other mistake was a curve ball that did not bite enough to Evan Longoria, who planted it in the left field stands to give the Rays a 2-0 lead. That would have been the final score, except that Terry Francona sent Manny Delcarmen in to pitch the 8th, and Manny graciously provided the Rays with an unneeded insurance run.
The only offensive excitement for the Red Sox came in the top of the fifth inning when Manny Ramirez walked, and then surprisingly took off for second on a straight out steal. He slid in head first, just beating the tag. Manny joked after the game, "Contract year - I'm stealing bases". Unfortunately, Manny's aggressiveness went for naught, as Youkilis grounded out, and Crisp and Varitek both struck out to end the threat.
So where did the offense go? The Red Sox have scored exactly 2 runs in the last 27 innings of baseball they have played! What happened to Manny, who has more career home runs against the Rays than any other player? What happened to the electric Ellsbury forcing runs to be scored? What happened to clutch hits by the Captain, Pedroia, or Youk? Is Tampa Bay pitching that good this year?
I think it is a combination of a few things. Yes, Tampa Bay pitching does look good, and will only get better when Scott Kasmir returns from the DL. Combine that with the Sox' roster being depleted and continually juggled due to injuries (Mike Lowell, Big Papi, Alex Cora, Sean Casey, Coco Crisp) and illness (Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jason Varitek among others). On top of that, throw in a relentless 20 game streak without a day off, and you have the perfect recipe for a 5 game losing streak.
I want to know who in the scheduling office is on the Yankee's payroll. Someone who creates the schedule has to have it in for the Sox. They start the season in Japan, then take a few days off for exhibition games, then play Oakland on the road, travel to Toronto for 3, get one day off before a 20 game stretch without a break, that starts off with facing Detroit, New York, Cleveland, and New York again. Hopefully the worst is behind us now.
Tomorrow night they will get Mike Lowell back, and I would guess Big Papi too. I expect they'll send Brandon Moss back to Pawtucket to make room for Lowell, and they'll keep Jed Lowrie around until Sean Casey or Alex Cora returns. Jon Lester will take the mound in Dice-K's spot giving Dice-K one more day of flu recovery before starting on Wednesday. Let's see if Lowell's return to Fenway can bring some stability back to the offense this week.
(Photos courtesy of Yahoo Sports)