OAKLAND - It seemed unlikely that any talk last night of a no-hitter would not refer to Jon Lester's efforts from earlier in the week.
Those were the pregame questions, of how he would bounce back and how he would come out in today's game. There was hardly a mention made of the pitchers throwing in last night's game, and certainly not in those terms.
Until the game actually started.
Though a no-hitter didn't come through twice in one week in games involving the Red Sox, Justin Duchscherer did his best to insert his name into the conversation. While he might have failed at that - David Ortiz hitting a one-out single in the seventh to put to rest those hopes for the A's - Duchscherer succeeded in continuing the shutout of the Red Sox on the road, with Boston falling, 3-0, in front of 33,468 fans at McAfee Coliseum for their sixth straight road loss.
So, no no-hitter. Duchscherer threw just 101 pitches over his eight innings, in which he allowed a single hit, a single hit batter, walked none, and struck out four Red Sox, before ceding the ninth inning to closer Huston Street, whose stress-free inning earned him his 10th save.
"[Duchscherer] commanded, I think, every pitch he threw tonight," Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He cut it, he threw a curveball. I don't remember him throwing one pitch that didn't look like it had a purpose. He might not have thrown a strike on certain pitches, but he just commanded everything. Kept us off balance.
"He was spreading the plate out, getting our lefties kind of on their front foot. Then he'd cut one in or back-door it. He really commanded."
It was a 2-and-0 fastball that caused the sea of fans to rise, giving Duchscherer a well-deserved round of applause.
It left Ortiz safe on first base, his line single breaking up a no-hitter that had gone 6 1/3 innings. Not bad for a guy once traded to Texas from Boston for that most random of icons, Doug Mirabelli.
So it was that one night after Rich Harden took down the first 10 Red Sox batters in order, Duchscherer took it far longer.
With virtually no well-struck balls, no near-misses or spectacular defensive plays, Duchscherer hit all his spots and more. When J.D. Drew flailed weakly to end the fifth inning, that marked 15 straight for the former Boston draft pick, though just his second strikeout of the game.
Duchscherer finally wilted when he hit Jason Varitek with an 0-and-1 pitch to lead off the sixth, getting him on the back of the right shoulder, and breaking up the perfection.
"He was the type of kid going through the minor leagues where he didn't overpower anybody, but his command is just [excellent]," Francona said of the pitcher who was selected to be on the 2005 All-Star team managed by Francona. "He always throws the ball where he wants to."
It was not long after that the first nod to the no-hitter happened. After starting with a less-than-stellar defensive outfield, the A's took out left fielder Jack Cust and inserted speedy Rajai Davis in center and moved Emil Brown to left.
But the move had little chance to pay dividends. Just one batter after the moves, Ortiz fired that ball into right-center, and the focus became about the win, not about the bid.
"[Duchscherer] mixed up his pitches well," Sox third baseman Mike Lowell said. "He really didn't miss over the middle of the plate. He was working the corners good. He didn't give in, even when he was behind. He was able to make his pitch."
Josh Beckett wasn't giving up much, either, though his one run allowed in the second inning was holding up for the A's. Then Ryan Sweeney added to it with a solo shot to lead off the seventh inning off a changeup.
"Somebody's got to lose those games," Beckett said. "We don't have a lot of games like that period. I don't think anybody in here ever has a right to complain about run support. We generally have our fair share of it."
Francona said, "In a normal night, or what we hope is a normal night, we're talking about that he really pitched pretty effective. Gave up two runs and we have a solid game. But we couldn't get anything going offensively."
The A's pushed across their first run on a double by Mike Sweeney, a sacrifice bunt by Ryan Sweeney, and a grounder to shortstop by Brown.
But after allowing a single to Mark Ellis, Beckett began matching Duchscherer in effectiveness, striking out six of the next nine batters.
Beckett was helped in the sixth inning by a highly questionable call by second base umpire Adrian Johnson. After Bobby Crosby hit a leadoff single, he was caught stealing as part of a strike-'em-out-throw-'em-out double play - except that he was clearly safe, with shortstop Alex Cora doing a good job selling the late tag.
Manny Delcarmen, on in relief of Beckett, didn't help the Red Sox cause much. He allowed a single, a walk, and an RBI single to Mike Sweeney, pushing the A's lead to 3-0 in the eighth inning.
The Red Sox have lost eight of their last 10 on the road. All that sandwiched around a 7-0 homestand in which they swept the Brewers and Royals.
"We would like to figure it out, so we can change it," Francona said of the road trouble. "If we'd have swung the bats like we did tonight last week, we wouldn't have won."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org