Sox reshuffle but slip in the rain
Fatigued lineup minus its usual thunder in Baltimore
BALTIMORE -- The humane approach failed the Red Sox last night. Because of an all-night flight from Texas, manager Terry Francona went to great lengths to rest his weary players. But on a night shortened by rain to six innings, a lineup missing four starters could not generate enough offense in a 3-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, who have had more than their share of sleepless nights lately.
The Orioles were losers of 11 of their previous 13 games and in rope-a-dope mode as they staggered into the All-Star break, trying to keep from falling out of sight in the American League East. But they closed to within three games of the Sox with solo home runs by Eli Marrero and Melvin Mora, and a two-out RBI ground single by the artist previously known as Slammin' Sammy Sosa, to pin a defeat on lefthander David Wells, who might have looked around and wondered where his usual supporting cast had gone.
The newcomers were Alex Cora, just obtained in a trade from Cleveland, and Adam Stern, summoned from Triple A Pawtucket after unhappy outfielder Jay Payton complained one too many times about not playing enough and was given his walking papers.
Missing in action last night were Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez, Edgar Renteria, and Jason Varitek, Damon because he'd aggravated his sore shoulder with a diving catch in Texas, the others because the Sox didn't land until after dawn and Francona didn't want to field a team of sleepwalkers (though it should surprise no one that when the clubhouse doors swung open at 3:30 p.m., Varitek was already on the premises).
''I actually thought this would be a night we'd be sitting around waiting to start the game," Francona said.
Rain held off, however, until conditions became unplayable at 9:10 p.m., two hours into the game, by which time the Orioles had seized their lead and starter Daniel Cabrera nursed it through five excruciating innings of 106 pitches. It fit with the night's theme that in Cabrera's last inning, the game turned on a play in which the guilty party -- in this case, outfielder Trot Nixon -- was, in the traditional parlance of the nation's sports pages, ''caught napping."
With the bases loaded, two outs, and a ball one count on John Olerud, Orioles catcher Sal Fasano, no better than third on the depth chart behind injured regulars Javy Lopez and Geronimo Gil, put on a play with the Orioles leading, 2-1. He gave a sign to shortstop Miguel Tejada, who slipped behind Nixon as Cabrera threw wide of the plate, then Fasano fired a strike to second that arrived at the same time as Nixon, who had strayed a step or two beyond safety. Second base umpire Ted Barrett, not convinced Nixon had slipped his leg into the bag before Tejada applied the tag, called him out.
''Not very smart base running," said Nixon, slumped so low after the game in his muddy uniform that he looked like a piece of discarded laundry in a far corner of the visitors' clubhouse. ''I was trying to get an extra step, but because it was raining, the ball was wet, it would have been difficult for an outfielder to make a play. I didn't need an extra step.
''Just stupid. I thought I did [get back safely], but that's not one of those plays you're going to sit there and argue. There shouldn't have been an opportunity for it to be close."
Wells (6-5) had not been on the mound for a loss since May 24 in Toronto, the night of Reed Johnson's walkoff home run off Alan Embree. The Sox had won his seven starts since, including his last effort, when he was ejected in a 4-all tie for uttering a curse when his back was turned to the cursee, plate umpire Larry Poncino.
Last night, Wells held his tongue until after the game, when he not only defended former teammate Kenny Rogers, who was suspended 20 games and is facing misdemeanor assault charges in a confrontation with a TV cameraman, but endorsed Rogers's behavior.
''There's a lot of pressure on Kenny," Wells said when asked if Rogers should bypass the All-Star Game and make way for pitcher Matt Clement, whose absence from the squad Wells bemoaned.
''I'm stoked for it. I'm glad he did that. He needed to vent. He's been a mild-mannered ballplayer his whole life."
When David Heuschkel of the Hartford Courant reminded Wells that Rogers was facing criminal charges, Wells said: ''The guy's [cameraman's] not hurt. Be a man, take it."
The startling words were delivered matter of factly, the same way Wells described his performance.
''I felt great," he said. ''The best I've felt. I got the ball up, and this place is like Philly. You get the ball up, it's going to fly."
But he wasn't going to blame the elements. ''You can't predict the weather," he said. ''You try to get a lead, but, unfortunately, they got the lead, and you can't control the weather."