The writing was on the wall yesterday morning. Tacked up in the Red Sox clubhouse, just inside the door, it went like this: Stern CF, Cora 2B, Ortiz DH, Ramírez LF, Youkilis 3B, Snow 1B, Peña RF, Bard C, Gonzalez SS.
Runs aplenty there simply would not be. David Ortiz and Manny Ramírez, in 2005, combined for 342 hits, 92 home runs, and 292 RBIs. The other seven batters in yesterday's lineup: 393 hits, 34 HRs, 180 RBIs. Factor in Ramírez's unprecedented season-opening slump (he has eight hits, all singles, and is 2 for his last 22), and this game had a decent chance to end as it did.
Seattle 3, Boston 0, with one unwarranted, complete-game ''L" for Tim Wakefield, who has become accustomed to these kinds of days (Exhibit A: Sept. 11, 2005, Yankee Stadium, 1-0 loss). He is, it seems, routinely backed by a lineup less capable than what the club's other pitchers receive.
''I'm not sure I agree with that," manager Terry Francona said. ''Whoever we put out there, we always feel we're going to win."
Adam Stern, atop the lineup yesterday, saw only 13 pitches in four at-bats and went 0 for 4, fanning three times (twice on three pitches). Stern and Alex Cora, in the top two spots, combined to go 0 for 8 and got the ball out of the infield only once. Consequently, Ortiz came up twice with no one on base and twice more leading off innings. He whiffed once and Ramírez twice (that's eight K's in his last 22 at-bats). The cleanup hitter has gone 11 games without a double (previous career high: eight games in 2000) and 11 games without a homer (previous high: 10 games in '05).
''He looks to me like it's just mental," said Seattle starter Joel Piñeiro (6 1/3 IP, 5 hits). ''When he's up there, he looks mean, like always, trying to hit the ball out or hit something hard. Manny's going to do what he does. He's just Manny being Manny. Maybe we got him at a good time when he's cold."
The Sox fanned nine times and have gone down swinging or looking 31 times over the last three games. With runners in scoring position yesterday, they went 0 for 6, leaving five men on base through two innings.
It was the second inning, in particular, that they would rue. J.T. Snow led off with a walk. Wily Mo Peña sent a missile to right-center that one-hopped into the seats for a double, forcing Snow to hold at third. Josh Bard, immediately behind, 0 and 2, battled Piñeiro in the day's best at-bat. Bard, with a half-swing, poked the 10th pitch foul. The 11th was a ball in the dirt, running the count full. The 12th was a ball high, for a walk. Bases loaded, no outs.
But Alex Gonzalez struck out looking, on a fastball that held its line, hugging the inside corner. To Stern, Piñeiro threw a wicked curveball for the second out.
''The one that I swung at in the dirt," Stern said, ''pretty good."
Cora then grounded to second, leaving the bases loaded.
''You don't like to think back to something that early as the turning point," Snow said, but it was. Seattle promptly sent seven men to the plate in the third, scoring three runs, though Wakefield was betrayed by his defense.
How the inning should have gone: Yuniesky Betancourt double. Ichiro Suzuki strikeout. Jose Lopez line out to third (on an excellent stab by Kevin Youkilis). Raul Ibanez line out to deep right.
How the inning did go: Betancourt doubled. Suzuki fanned (''I threw probably the best knuckleball I threw all day," Wakefield said) but the ball hit Bard's mitt and skipped away, allowing Suzuki to take the open base, with Betancourt taking third. With Lopez up, a Wakefield pitch again deflected off Bard's glove, allowing Betancourt to score on Bard's second passed ball of the inning and fifth of the season, one fewer than Doug Mirabelli allowed all of last season. (Mirabelli did yield 14 in 2003 and 15 in 2004.)
''It's frustrating when you do it for 98 pitches and two get away," Bard said. ''That's not enough. I feel I'm prepared and I feel I've done everything I can do and I just missed the ball. It seems it's happening in bad situations. That's where I've got to relax my body the most."
Ibanez then launched a ball to deep right on a line. Peña, playing deep enough, took a step or two in, froze momentarily, then turned his head as the ball shot over him and one-hopped into the bleachers.
''He took a step in," Francona said. ''Once he did, that ball was not going to get caught."
Suzuki scored for a 2-0 lead. Wakefield, after his third pitch to Richie Sexson, walked up the mound. He noticed Ibanez napping, and, before assuming his spot on the rubber, wheeled, and threw to Cora, who had Ibanez picked off. But second base umpire Rick Reed called him safe. Why?
According to Wakefield, Reed thought plate umpire Ted Barrett had called for time after the previous pitch.
''I guess he thought it as a dead ball," Wakefield said. ''He was out."
Did Reed acknowledge that?
''No," Wakefield said. ''But I could tell, and Alex Cora told me he was out."
Sexson busted the next pitch into the left-field corner, plating Ibanez for a 3-0 lead. Wakefield, undeterred, would face 21 more batters and allow only three to reach.
''Timmy probably could have gone 20 innings today," Bard said. ''I dropped the ball. The ball got past Wily Mo. A couple things to let him down."
Piñeiro was every bit as brilliant. He set the Sox down in order in the third, fifth, and sixth innings. He lasted those 6 1/3, when he handed the ball and base runners over to power righty J.J. Putz. Putz fanned Stern, got Cora to fly to center to end the inning, and blew away Ortiz, Ramirez, and Youkilis in the eighth, all three swinging.
''Obviously, you've got some guys with a day off," Bard said. ''Missing Coco [Crisp] has been huge, and that has nothing to do with Youk or Stern. They've done really well."
But . . .
''That means they're hitting leadoff instead of hitting deeper," Bard continued. ''It's really going to affect you. I think you could see when [Crisp] was in the lineup we were doing the little things. He gives you so much energy."