Sox start slowly
Second half begins with rout on road
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- If there was a benefit, as Red Sox manager Terry Francona maintained, to having Derek Lowe be the pitcher chosen to start the season's second half, it was apparent only to the Anaheim Angels.
The line drives came early and often for the Angels, who made Lowe's pitches bob when they were supposed to sink, knocking him out in the fifth inning. They were no less sparing of reliever Alan Embree, who went single, RBI double, two-run single to the first three batters he faced after replacing Lowe in a five-run fifth inning that propelled the Angels to an 8-1 win last night before a sellout crowd of 43,623 in Angel Stadium.
"Every inning he was averaging about 25 pitches, which makes it tough going right from the get-go," Francona said of Lowe, who was lifted after Bengie Molina's two-out RBI single in the fifth made it 3-1, left fielder Kevin Millar unable to cut down Darin Erstad even though he fielded the ball just as Erstad was rounding third base.
"Derek was bending but not breaking," Francona said of Lowe, who had at least two base runners in each inning he worked but kept the Angels scoreless until the fourth, when Millar pulled up on Chone Figgins's blooper that fell among three Sox players just inside the left-field line. "If he gets Molina, then it's a 2-1 game and we're in pretty good shape. But then it fell apart."
The Sox' bullpen, in one of its dimmer collective outings, absorbed more hits in the sixth. Erstad hit a two-run home run off Curtis Leskanic, accounting for the final margin and practically begging for an appearance by Ramiro Mendoza, who was activated yesterday in a move dictated by procedural necessity. Indeed, Mendoza pitched for the first time since April 7, working a 1-2-3 eighth.
The Angels, who have won all three meetings between the teams this season, moved to within a half-game of the Sox in the wild-card standings. The Sox, who have lost eight of their last nine games on the road and have been beaten in their last four road series, are off to an inauspicious start to what may be the most trying stretch of their 2004 schedule -- 17 of the next 23 games on the road, with the interlude at home including a day-night doubleheader followed by three games against the Yankees.
The Bombers moved eight games ahead of the Sox in the American League East by virtue of their win over the Tigers and the Sox' loss at the hands of lefthander Jarrod Washburn, who held the Sox to three hits and an unearned run in seven innings. The four hits by the Sox were their fewest in a game since their last sojourn to the West Coast, when Jason Schmidt of the Giants threw a one-hitter June 20.
"I don't know what it is," Millar said when asked if he could account for the lopsided home-road splits. "Prior to tonight, I don't know the answer. But tonight, Jarrod Washburn pitched a great game."
Is it stating the obvious that the Sox have to start winning away from Yawkey Way? "It is stating the obvious that if we are going to be the team we want to be, we have to win everywhere," Francona said.
With cleanup man Manny Ramirez limited to DH duty after he informed Francona that his hamstrings were still tight, the Sox scored their only run when Bill Mueller exploited an error by third baseman Figgins with an RBI double.
Ramirez did not get the ball out of the infield in his first three at-bats, grounding into a double play to end the sixth, before flying out in his last at-bat. Meanwhile, leadoff man Johnny Damon's 16-game hitting streak came to an end as he went 0 for 4, center fielder Garret Anderson running down his bid for extra bases with two on and two outs in the fifth.
Jason Varitek had the Sox' first hit, leading off the third, but appeared to exercise excessive caution when he stopped at first even though his liner bounced off left fielder Jose Guillen and rolled toward the fence. Clearly, Varitek had no interest in testing his lack of speed against the powerful arm of Guillen, who has thrown out eight base runners this season.
Perhaps in his subsequent eagerness to advance, Varitek was doubled up on Mueller's broken-bat soft liner to short.
Lowe had billed his last start the biggest he'd ever made as a Red Sox, believing he'd ratcheted up the pressure on himself by challenging outsiders to stop psychoanalyzing him after every poor outing. Perhaps his critics will take their cue and agree with him that his 7-9 record and 5.67 ERA is a product of bad pitching, nothing more, nothing less.
"Stuffwise, if you told me I'd have that type of stuff every game, I'd take it, as crazy at that sounds," Lowe said. "They put a lot of pressure on you with base runners early. I got out of a lot of jams, but in the fifth inning it got away from us."
Molina was the difference-maker, when he reached down and pulled a good pitch into left. "Molina was probably the biggest at-bat of the game," Lowe said. "It was a sinker down and in, but he did a good job of hitting."
Millar said he chose not to dive for Figgins's ball that scored the first Angels' run in the fourth, the one that fell among Nomar Garciaparra, Mueller, and the left fielder.
"I ran a long way," Millar said. "If I dive for that ball, I kill Billy Mueller. It was not for sure that I catch it if I dive. But if I dive, Billy Mueller breaks three ligaments in his leg."
Lowe was able to dodge trouble early, even as his pitch count reached alarming heights by the end of the third inning (67) and did not taper off in the fourth (94). Francona, mindful of Vladimir Guerrero's nine-RBI performance the last time the Sox were here, elected to have Guerrero walked with first base open and two outs in the first, and Lowe made that strategy stand up by retiring Guillen on a fly ball to right.
Two walks gave the Angels two more base runners in the second, but Lowe eased out of that one when David Eckstein grounded out to short. Eckstein finished the night with three hits and is 11 for 15 in three games against the Sox.
Gabe Kapler's terrific throw from right cut down Figgins after his leadoff single in the third, and after a two-out walk to Guerrero and a broken-bat single by Guillen, Lowe dodged more trouble by striking out Erstad.
"Sometimes," Lowe said, "you've got to give the other team credit instead of beating yourself up over it."