House of horrors
It's a house of horrors for Red Sox
NEW YORK -- Pop the hood. Check the throttle. Heck, launch a complete, trouble-shooting computer scan.
Something is wrong. Maybe not wrong enough to warrant a call to the scrap dealer. But worrisome enough that Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein may have inched just a bit closer last night to deciding to "make changes for change's sake" and consider rebuilding his team's engine.
Betrayed yet again by a defense that has given away runs like so many auto rebates, the Sox extended their troubling pattern of following an uplifting victory with an ugly loss by stumbling in an 11-3 snoozer before 55,231 in the opener of a significant three-game series against the Yankees in the Bronx.
"Against any team, when you give extra outs, you can get burned," manager Terry Francona said. "Against the Yankees, you can't do that. You've got to play good games and clean baseball to beat them. We didn't do that, and they took advantage of every mistake we made."
Maybe now that filmmaker Michael Moore has finished skewering the auto industry ("Roger and Me"), the gun lobby ("Bowling for Columbine") and the Bush administration ("Fahrenheit 9/11"), he could turn his attention to the Sox. After all, he seems to have finished rolling film on the likes of vice president Dick Cheney, who stopped by 161st Street to witness the latest act of futility by the Sox.
"It was just not a good day for the Sox," said first baseman Kevin Millar, who committed one of the team's three errors. "We didn't catch the ball and we just couldn't seem to get out of those big innings."
Thanks in part to Millar's miscue and a pair by shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, the Sox surrendered four more unearned runs, extending their major league lead to 58. They have committed 65 errors this season, a full 20 more than their opponents, and their latest blunders hardly could have come at a more inopportune time as they tried to narrow their gap with the division-leading Yankees.
"We're a much better defensive team than we've showed," said Johnny Damon, whose two home runs went for naught. "We booted a couple of balls and those guys will make you pay."
With starter Derek Lowe providing little help -- the Bombers torched him for nine hits, including a three-run homer by Gary Sheffield and a two-run shot by old friend Tony Clark, and a walk over five innings -- the Sox slipped 6 1/2 games off the pace as they continued to hover closer to the third-place Devil Rays than the leaders.
"Sometimes when you get beat, you have to take it like a man and move on," Lowe said. "That's all you can really do. They beat us in every facet of the game."
The lapse by Lowe and the defense wasted Damon's solo homers in the first and third innings and David Ortiz's solo jack in the sixth. Each of Damon's homers gave the Sox a lead they were unable to hold, partly because they went 2 for 9 with runners on base against Javier Vazquez and his bullpen. Other than their home runs, the Sox put only three runners in scoring position and went hitless in those situations.
Vazquez, whom the Sox once coveted, improved to 9-5 with a 3.42 ERA, while Lowe ended an otherwise strong June by dropping to 6-7 with a 5.47 ERA.
The loss abruptly removed the luster from the best start (6-1) through seven games of a season for the Sox against the Yankees since 1912. The Yankees made it look easy by exploiting the Sox errors and banging around Lowe and reliever Lenny DiNardo. Lowe had never allowed nine runs in a game.
As much as Damon tried to carry them, the Sox buckled quickly under the weight of their own mistakes. After Lowe survived an error by Garciaparra on Kenny Lofton's grounder leading off the first inning, he gave back the run Damon provided with his first homer by surrendering singles to Hideki Matsui, Bernie Williams, and Clark in the second inning.
Damon briefly kept hope alive for the Sox with his second blast, but his deeds promptly were nullified after Millar planted the seed of trouble by booting Lofton's grounder leading off the Yankees' third. The error put Lofton in position to scamper to third on Derek Jeter's single and score on Sheffield's sacrifice fly, making it 2-2.
"You always have more time than you think," Millar said of his error. "I kind of rushed it because of Lofton and his speed."
The Sox caught a break when Alex Rodriguez's grounder bounced off third base and stayed in the infield for a single, because Jeter had stolen second and probably could have scored. Jeter and A-Rod then pulled off a double steal, allowing them to score easily on Matsui's single to right, giving Vazquez a 4-2 advantage.
Still, the deficit seemed manageable for the Sox. But then things further unraveled in the fourth. With two outs and a runner on second, Lowe induced Jeter to tap a potential inning-ending grounder to short. But Garciaparra bobbled the ball, leaving runners at first and third for Sheffield, who delivered the death blow by pulling a misplaced pitch from Lowe over the left-field wall to create a 7-2 mess.
Garciaparra said nothing unusual contributed to the error.
"I'm going out there every day trying to work hard and make plays," he said. "Sometimes you make them, sometimes you don't."
Francona rejected the notion that Garciaparra somehow may have been affected by lingering resentment toward the Sox.
"He just made a couple of errors," the manager said. "Obviously, we don't want that, but I don't think you chalk that up to resentment."
Francona said Garciaparra has yet to fully regain his touch since he returned from the disabled list.
"He's trying to find his midseason form," Francona said. "He's not there yet, but the best way I know how to go about it is to keep running him out there as long as he's healthy."
The Yankees grabbed a 9-2 lead when Clark clubbed his two-run shot to center, the last cruel act of the night against Lowe.
Ortiz's solo blow in the sixth narrowed the margin, but only for a New York minute because the Yankees recouped the run in the bottom of the inning by loading the bases against DiNardo before Rodriguez tapped into a run-scoring fielder's choice.
In the end, the Sox need to win the last two games of the series to keep from falling into a deeper hole in the division. But Francona, as always, kept the faith.
"If I'm any judge of talent, I think we'll be fantastic," he said. "I love these guys. I think we're going to find a way to be a very good team. I also think we have to improve, and I believe we're going to do that."