BLUE JAYS 3, RED SOX 1
After quick start, tired Red Sox are left in the dust as Jays race past them
TORONTO -- Maybe it was meant to end with a whimper. Riddled with injuries and fatigue, the Red Sox yesterday ended a 19-day, 20-game odyssey so ravaged by attrition that they almost needed to conduct a head count of the last men standing as they limped toward their first scheduled day off in three weeks.
A day after they fielded a lineup in which only one player (center fielder Johnny Damon) filled the role he was projected to play in spring training, the Sox squared off against Toronto's reigning Cy Young Award winner, Roy Halladay, with only two players in their projected roles (Damon and catcher Jason Varitek). The lineup also included Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and Pokey Reese, but none of them played the roles they initially were expected to fill.
"We could really use it," manager Terry Francona said of today's day off after Halladay outdueled Pedro Martinez to sink the Sox, 3-1, before 31,618 at SkyDome.
The loss dropped the Sox a half-game behind the Yankees in the American League East and ended their 20-game gauntlet at 10-10. In their longest stretch of the season without a day off, the Sox covered more than 4,250 miles between Boston, Texas, Cleveland, and Toronto before they boarded an 1,100-mile flight for Tampa and their respite. They played two doubleheaders during the run, including one before a flight that arrived in Texas near dawn. And they missed two of their best regulars, Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon, more than ever.
"I think everyone is very relieved," Damon said, noting that the Sox were able to overcome the disappointment of losing quickly enough to dress rookies Kevin Youkilis and Lenny DiNardo as Hooters girls in a hazing ritual that was certain to entertain the Customs police.
The Sox, who led the AL East by two games when the odyssey began April 27, open a three-game series tomorrow against the Devil Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla., before they return Friday for a 10-game homestand against the Jays, A's, Mariners, and Orioles.
For Francona, it was best to look ahead.
"Regardless of how good or bad we've played the day before, you've got to forget," he said. "You've got to learn and go on because if you don't it makes you tired that way. Believe me, I think about all the stuff after the game's over, usually in the middle of the night. But today's today. You go on."
As much as the Sox tried to go on against Halladay, he foiled them at nearly every turn. They scored only in the first after Damon singled leading off. After Mark Bellhorn bounced into a fielder's choice, with Damon erased at second, Bellhorn advanced to second on David Ortiz's groundout and scored on Manny Ramirez's two-out single.
Halladay, who scattered six hits and two walks while firing 124 pitches over seven innings, prevailed for the first time in three meetings this season against Martinez.
"Halladay's tough, especially the deeper he goes in the game," Ramirez said. "He's like Pedro. He gets more and more nasty the longer he goes."
Martinez held the Jays hitless until Vernon Wells chopped a high-hopper to third and barely beat the throw from Kevin Youkilis for a single with one out in the fourth.
It would have taken a spectacular play by Youkilis to beat the fleet Wells.
"I was just trying to do-or-die it," Youkilis said after his second game in the majors. "I might have hurried it a little bit, but he runs so fast I just tried to make a quick play."
Two pitches later, Martinez made his only serious mistake of the game, misplacing an 89-mile-an-hour fastball to Carlos Delgado.
"It was supposed to be up and in, and it was out over the plate," Martinez said. "My fault, my mistake."
Delgado crushed it, launching a 383-foot blast to right for a decisive two-run homer.
"If I could take that pitch back and throw it again, I would try to throw it where I wanted it," Martinez said. "But I'm only human, and I can only do so much."
No one blamed Martinez, who threw 111 pitches over seven innings, surrendering three runs on six hits and a walk while striking out six. The Jays manufactured their final run when Frank Catalanotto bounced a single deep to second base leading off the sixth, reached second when Delgado poked an opposite-field single to left, advanced to third when Eric Hinske flied out, and scored on Reed Johnson's bloop single to center.
Martinez slipped to 4-3 with a 3.75 ERA, but he submitted his third straight quality start.
"If I continue to pitch the way I have been pitching," he said, "I think we're going to win a lot of games."
The Sox could win even more if they score a few more runs. They left the bases loaded in the fifth. They left runners at first and second in the eighth. And they ended the game going hitless in three tries with a runner on second in the ninth.
All told, the Sox hit .133 (2 for 15) against Halladay and a pair of relievers with runners on base. Youkilis did his part, singling to lead off the seventh and ninth innings, but to no avail.
"I thought it might spark something, but that's baseball," he said. "Some days it's going to work. Some days it's not."
And some days it's time for a rest.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.