The fans had waited nearly an hour last night when out of the garage in Fenway Park's center field sprinted the Celtics, the sopping, rain-soaked Celtics. Perhaps the shower that accompanied the celebration of their NBA Finals win was what caused the ceremonial first pitch from Paul Pierce to Jason Varitek to go so far awry. Fortunately, the Red Sox captain managed to avoid a wrenched neck, despite lunging and missing Pierce's throw.
The game started 1 hour 14 minutes late. The Sox were decked in head-turning green jerseys that got a joking thumbs down from Manny Ramírez in the clubhouse, where he walked around asking if the Yankees ever wore jerseys dedicated to the Knicks.
Maybe someone needed to remind him of the Knicks' current status. Or maybe the Red Sox ought to just shelve the jerseys. Because once the game started, there was far more frustration than celebration. Three times Red Sox batters came up with the bases loaded. The results? One sacrifice fly, one strikeout, one double play, and just two runs. The strikeout and DP were both supplied by Ramírez, the missed opportunities leading to a 5-4 loss to the Cardi nals in St. Louis's first game in Boston since the 2004 World Series.
"I'm going to take my chances all the time with Manny," Julio Lugo said. "With the bases loaded, I'm going to bet on him."
Not in this game, though. Ramírez did score the game's first run, but failed to capitalize at the plate in the fifth and seventh innings, though Jacoby Ellsbury scored on his double-play ball in the seventh.
The Sox trailed, 5-3, in the ninth against Ryan Franklin. With one out, Dustin Pedroia doubled, bringing up the red-hot J.D. Drew. But Drew, who hasn't missed on much of anything lately, struck out looking. That was followed by a walk to Ramírez. With two outs, Mike Lowell singled up the middle, scoring Pedroia and sending Ramírez to third base. The game was left up to Kevin Youkilis, whose fly to right field ended it.
"Very frustrating," said Kevin Cash (1 for 3). "We've got to capitalize on some of those opportunities. I think everybody would say that when this lineup gets its opportunities, you expect to get one, two, if not more runs.
"It is kind of surprising. Those situations occur and we don't get that big hit, whoever it is on that given night. That's baseball - sometimes you're going to get them, sometimes you don't."
In the sixth, Lugo did both, learning the lesson that there is something to be said for timing. Though there is also something to be said for accurate throws to first base.
After Rick Ankiel led off with a double off the Wall, Lugo misfired on Troy Glaus's grounder to shortstop, forcing Youkilis to come off the bag. Glaus avoided the tag. Then, while trying to turn a DP on a grounder by Chris Duncan, Lugo again made a bad throw to first. Ankiel scored on Lugo's second error of the inning, giving the Cardinals a 2-1 lead over Sox starter Tim Wakefield (4-5).
"No one wants to make errors," Lugo said. "I come in here and try to do my best. I feel bad when I make an error. I know I've been awful. I've been awful out there. I just try to make the next play."
Lugo atoned for the blunders in the bottom of the inning. He smashed a 90-mile-per-hour Kyle Lohse fastball over everything in left field, a solo home run for someone who doesn't go deep often. In fact, it was Lugo's first homer since Sept. 22 in Tampa. And he hadn't hit one at Fenway in 11 months, since July 20 against the White Sox.
Lugo came to the dugout with his arms up. Perhaps he realized that redemption is often just a swing away.
It was a night for home runs by non-home run hitters. Of the four homers hit, three were by the Cardinals - two off Wakefield, one off Hideki Okajima - and one by the Red Sox. The four players who went deep had combined for eight homers coming in.
While Lohse was locating well, Wakefield was mostly keeping the Cardinals at bay. He allowed a solo home run to Jason LaRue (who wasn't even in the original lineup), then Ankiel scored on Lugo's second error. Skip Schumaker hit a two-run shot to right in the seventh. Yadier Molina added a solo homer in the eighth off Okajima.
"We had some opportunities," Sox manager Terry Francona said. "We let them off the hook a couple of times, and you end up losing by one. We did have some good opportunities."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.