OAKLAND, Calif. -- This was not something the Red Sox merely imagined in their sleep-deprived state, like Terry Francona arriving at the team's hotel after its all-night flight yesterday morning and mistaking the mirrors that lined the corridors as the way to his room.
Dan Haren, as he has all spring, did indeed pitch like a 21st-Century Walter Johnson for the Athletics last night, while second baseman Mark Ellis became just the sixth player in Oakland history to hit for the cycle.
But at the end of a 30-hour cycle in which the Sox squeezed in four excruciating hours Sunday night in Boston against the Yankees, a cross-country trip that landed in San Francisco around dawn, then an 11-inning ordeal against the Athletics, they can take a small measure of comfort in knowing they didn't just merely turn off the lights and roll over for their hosts here last night.
On the contrary. Before succumbing to the Athletics, 5-4, on Eric Chavez's walkoff home run off Kyle Snyder, the Sox nearly pilfered a game begun by their No. 5 starter, Julian Tavarez, who was once again matched up against the other team's ace, with their bullpen short-handed, and with four regulars on the bench.
"We showed up and did a very good job of playing, which is what we set out to do,'' Francona said. "We lost a heart-breaking game. It won't be heart-breaking tomorrow. It'll be over.''
The Sox were down to their last out in regulation when they scored twice to tie it. They then survived a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the bottom of the ninth and took a shot at winning in the 10th, when Dustin Pedroia was cut down trying to score on David Ortiz's two-out double, which just missed being his second home run of the night, before Chavez did them in.
"I left a ball up over the plate...it was a mistake, and not a very well-timed one,'' Snyder said of that sudden bolt from Chavez, on a night that the Athletics had managed just one hit in 15 chances with runners in scoring position, including two futile attempts against Snyder in the 10th with two men on, one of them being Ellis, who blooped a single to complete his cycle.
Was it a mistake for third-base coach DeMarlo Hale to wave home Pedroia, who had singled to extend his hitting streak to 14 games, when Ortiz's ball caromed true to center-fielder Mark Kotsay, the subsequent relay enabling Oakland catcher Jason Kendall to apply a necktie tag on the Sox rookie? Only because it didn't work out. The rationale was sound.
"I didn't have much of a lead at first, because the lefty (Athletics reliever Ron Flores) has a good move,'' Pedroia said, "and David's hitting, too, so you've got to be kind of heads up there.
"I saw (the carom) out of the corner of my eye. I knew DeMarlo was going to send me. It was the right play. They made a perfect relay. I was out by 10 feet.''
Before it was over, Francona, who had crafted a makeshift lineup so a few people could get some rest, wound up canceling all shore leave. After Ortiz, who earlier snapped his homerless streak at 19 games (and 69 at-bats), doubled to open the ninth, Jason Varitek, in what may have been history's first known case of a man pinch-hitting for a $70 million right-fielder (J.D. Drew), wobbled a badminton shot over first baseman Nick Swisher's head for a run-scoring single. Varitek then yielded to pinch-runner Coco Crisp, who was on the move and scored the tying run on a double by Wily Mo Pena, who was playing only because Crisp had begun the night with a bellyache and earlier had homered.
The rally, accompanied by the roars of a crowd tilted in the Sox favor, came at the expense of former Sox reliever Alan Embree, thrust in the closer's role because the normal closer, Huston Street (ulnar nerve), and his most trusted setup man, Justin Duchscherer (hip), were out with injuries. The Sox, meanwhile, were going without closer Jonathan Papelbon and Hideki Okajima, their two most reliable late-inning options.
A four-pitch walk by Joel Pineiro, whose wildness had led to a run in the eighth, and an error by the substitute first baseman, Eric Hinske, to start the bottom of the ninth had the Sox 90 feet away from calling it a night. That probability was reinforced when J.C. Romero entered and walked the first man he faced, Dan Johnson. But Romero struck out Chavez and Bobby Crosby got overanxious on a 2-and-0 pitch and rolled to Kevin Youkilis, who started a third-to-home-to-first double play.
Bonus panels. The Sox were denied by Crosby's exquisite relay, then Snyder rescued Romero in the 10th. He inherited a two-on, one-out situation and retired Shannon Stewart on a check-swinger tap to the mound, then raced over to cover first on Buck's slow roller up the line, pitcher and base-runner bumping fenders at the bag, but Snyder retaining his grip on the ball.
Still, Snyder's fine work before Chavez took him deep did nothing to ease the sting.
"I think it shows the resilience this team has,'' he said of the lengths to which the Sox went to win last night. "We're tough. We don't quit. (But) a loss is a loss. It's never fun. No matter what the course of events that led up to it.''
The way events were unfolding, the Sox could have found themselves without a catcher if something had happened to Doug Mirabelli.
"I know (Mike) Lowell said he caught in Little League,'' Francona said of the Sox third baseman, whose day off abruptly ended when he was summoned to pinch hit for Hinske in the 10th and flied out. "That would probably have been good enough. At that point, we were just trying to win the game. I guarantee you somebody would have run up and volunteered. I mean, Wake (Tim Wakefield) was out there running to get his spikes tonight. That's the kind of group we have. That wouldn't have been an issue.''
Haren, who began the night with the majors' best earned run average (1.64), gave up four hits, including the bases-empty home runs by Ortiz and Pena. He walked one and struck out nine in 7 2./3 innings, including J.D. Drew, Pena and Mirabelli twice apiece. The last batter he faced was Pedroia, his hitting streak sprouting an expiration date after four at-bats without reaching base.
Haren, a former Pepperdine star, has allowed two runs or fewer in 12 of his 13 starts, and has allowed more than four hits only once in his last half-dozen starts. He has made seven straight starts without allowing more than two runs, and has done so only once in his last 10 starts.
"He is a dominant pitcher,'' Francona said. "I think in some circles he goes under the radar, (but) not with us. I mean, this guy's been good for a long time. He's got velocity, movement, one of the better splits in the game. and a breaking ball.''
But Tavarez, despite a rapidly ascending pitch count (107) that led to his dismissal with two outs in the sixth, gave a good accounting of himself. His primary shortcoming was his inability to handle Ellis. Ellis hit a two-run triple in the second after a walk and hit-and-run single by Kotsay in the second, then led off the fourth with a home run. He also doubled off Tavarez before his exit in the sixth.
And so it was to bed, at an hour in which most of New England had long since given last call.
"It wears you out,'' Ortiz said. "But we've got no choice. We have to play. I'm surprised we had the game we did. It's tough. Hopefully, they'll fix that stuff (the schedule).''