Good thing the Red Sox have 91 games to play. They have plenty of time to correct what they learned from the first 71.
The most important lesson of all? They need to run on all cylinders if they hope to go very far.
Pitching well is all fine and dandy. So is hitting well. And fielding well. But if the Sox expect to reach the postseason -- and go deeper than they did last year -- they need to start doing all three well. And they need to do it consistently.
In finding a way to lose yesterday for the fourth time in five games, the Sox reminded themselves how much they have been plagued this year by inconsistency.
"Every time we think we're ready to get on a little bit of a roll, we don't put it together," manager Terry Francona said after the Sox bowed to the Twins, 4-3, in 10 innings before the 100th straight sellout crowd at Fenway Park. "There have been a lot of games where we've bailed ourselves out because we continued to play, but we just need to put it all together at the same time."
In the microanalysis that inevitably follows every loss, the fault often falls on a particular player. When the Sox dropped the final two games last weekend in San Francisco, Alan Embree and Mike Timlin were blamed for misplaced pitches in crucial situations. And the first inclination yesterday may have been to lay the loss at Nomar Garciaparra's doorstep since his error leading off the 10th inning cleared the way for Minnesota's winning run.
But when a team with postseason ambitions goes 11-14 late in the spring and early summer, as the Sox have, there's plenty of blame to go around. The Sox lost a third straight series for the first time since they dropped four straight from Sept. 21-Oct. 3, 2001.
"We haven't been that good in the last month," Johnny Damon said. "Everyone's under a microscope right now until we go out there and start winning games."
The Sox have averaged only 2.25 runs a game over their last four losses, which explains as much, if not more, than the individual lapses of Embree, Timlin, or Garciaparra. And all the runs they scored yesterday were produced by a single batter, David Ortiz, who launched a solo homer in the first inning off Brad Radke and laced a two-sun single in the seventh off reliever Aaron Fultz.
Turning things around will require "getting the big hits and not relying on Ortiz getting all the RBIs out there," said Damon, who scored the tying run on Ortiz's single. Kevin Youkilis and Damon each singled to help chase Radke and set up Ortiz's tying hit.
But the Sox could do little else against the Minnesota pen, which made Garciaparra's error seem all the more glaring. He made the miscue when Cristian Guzman whistled a grounder up the middle off Keith Foulke leading off the 10th. Garciaparra ranged to his left to snare the ball, spun 360 degrees, and fired toward first in one of his signature defensive plays.
This time, though, his throw veered wide to the right of first baseman Kevin Millar and skipped into the Sox dugout, allowing Guzman to reach second.
"You do a great job of getting to it, you spin and hope the ball is there, and nine times out of 10 it is," Garciaparra said. "I just got one that wasn't."
Garciaparra needed to rush his throw because of Guzman's speed.
"That's a do-or-die [play] right there," Francona said. "That ball was a hit. He took the hit away and then he tried to spin and throw and it ends up having some sink to it off the bag. Most shortstops don't even have a chance to make that play."
With none out, former Sox second baseman Jose Offerman dropped a sacrifice bunt to send Guzman to third. Then former Sox farmhand Lew Ford lofted a sacrifice fly to left, allowing Guzman to score easily.
Still, the Sox sent the heart of their order to the plate in the bottom of the 10th against Minnesota closer Joe Nathan. Trouble was, Nathan first caught Ortiz off guard by throwing him an 84-mile-an-hour slider on a 3-and-1 count.
"It kind of surprised me a little bit because the guy can throw 98 miles an hour and he threw me a breaking ball," Ortiz said. "I got a good swing on it, but I didn't hit it where I wanted to hit it."
After Ortiz lined out to right, Manny Ramirez struck out flailing at a 90-m.p.h. breaking ball on a 1-and-2 pitch from Nathan. Then Garciaparra popped out foul to the catcher to seal Foulke's first loss in a Boston uniform.
Foulke and Tim Wakefield each endured worse than they deserved. While Foulke allowed only one unearned run over two innings, Wakefield surrendered just three runs (only one earned) over 7 2/3 innings. (The Twins scored two unearned runs in the second inning after one of Wakefield's knucklers bounced away from catcher Doug Mirabelli for a passed ball on a third strike to Michael Cuddyer.)
The Sox have allowed 49 unearned runs, the most in the American League. They also have failed to pitch and hit consistently.
"It's time to start winning," Damon said. "That's the bottom line."