There was a new feeling at the ballpark last night, a whisper of unease - because who can predict the whims of Manny Ramírez - but perhaps also a trace of calm. A bit of a lull, maybe. The Yankees have gone. The Ramírez circus, other than a rather weak attempt to run to first on a double-play ball in the seventh, took a day's break. And the focus, for the moment, was on baseball.
The backroom dealings remained, the front office hunkered down in preparation for Thursday's trading deadline, but there was also an on-field impetus. The Red Sox had dropped five straight to the Angels, three coming a week and a half ago in Anaheim, and had beaten LA just once in six games this season.
Make that once in seven games, after a 7-5 loss last night that marked their third loss in their last four games and sixth in 10 games since the All-Star break.
"I think it still comes down to us," said Jason Varitek, who reached base in three of four plate appearances. "When we execute and do things we can do, we're a good team. We don't [right now], and they've executed all their little things right now.
"Can't control what's behind us. You never can. It would be just like if we were worried about what was behind us, we couldn't have won [Sunday]. We string together eight out of 10 quality starts, I'd like to see where we're at."
That wasn't what happened last night, and it left the Sox at a loss again, on a night prime for gaining ground because the Rays and Yankees also lost.
"It would have been nice to pick up one," said Jacoby Ellsbury, who acknowledged he wasn't scoreboard watching. But Daisuke Matsuzaka, and a six-run sixth inning, made sure that wasn't going to happen, leaving the Sox in the same place they started yesterday morning - 1 game behind the Rays and two ahead of the Yankees in the American League East.
They couldn't move up a game, but a ninth-inning home run by Ramírez placed him in selective company, marking the 14th consecutive season in which he has hit 20 home runs. He became just the eighth player in major league history to do so. The others? Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Eddie Mathews, Rafael Palmeiro, and Mike Schmidt.
With Matsuzaka on the mound, it seemed things might turn out all right for the Sox. But Matsuzaka (11-2) fell apart, and quickly, in the sixth, leading to disappointed 37,830 trudging out of Fenway Park just after 10 p.m.
It had looked easy over the past five games for Matsuzaka, or as easy as it can when a pitcher walks 19 in five starts and 30 2/3 innings. Despite the walks, Matsuzaka had allowed just three runs in that span for a 0.88 ERA. It was magical, in a way, his ability to make base runners disappear at just the right instant.
Last night he allowed two free passes, and again it came down to a walk. A walk to lead off the sixth.
"They bunched two home runs, two more hits together," manager Terry Francona said. "I have to believe the inning is different if we don't lose [Chone] Figgins. Especially when you're ahead 0-2 to start the inning."
After walking Figgins, Matsuzaka allowed a two-run home run to Casey Kotchman, ultimately getting knocked out by Torii Hunter's three-run shot. Matsuzaka (5 IP, 7 H, 6 ER, his ERA jumping from 2.63 to 3.04) hadn't allowed a homer since June 21 (his only other loss), and had allowed just one in his last eight starts. Varitek called the inning, "a combination of making some selection errors and we made a few mistakes."
Even Justin Masterson was not much relief, allowing two singles and a suicide squeeze by Jeff Mathis that scored Howie Kendrick with the Angels' final run of the inning. The Sox got one back in the sixth, Jed Lowrie's ground-rule double to right scoring David Ortiz (2 for 4, 2 runs), who led off with a walk and advanced to second on a single to center by J.D. Drew (2 for 3). But there could have been more. With two outs, a walk to Varitek loaded the bases. But the slumping Ellsbury, batting ninth, struck out swinging at a pitch in the dirt.
The Sox rallied again in the eighth, bringing the tying run to the plate. Drew belted a one-out double to left and Varitek drew a two-out walk. Up came Ellsbury, who had been 0 for 3 without a ball out of the infield. But the rookie center fielder went the other way with a single to left, scoring Drew to make it 7-5. Dustin Pedroia (0 for 5) knubbed one to first to end the threat.
Ramírez (2 for 3, 3 RBIs) launched his 20th homer of the season into the Monster seats in left against Francisco Rodriguez, but it was the All-Star closer's lone blemish in his major-league leading 44th save.
"They might be the class of the American League right now," Francona said. "I think we feel like every time we play we're going to win. [But] they have tremendous starting pitching, and a very good bullpen, a lot of speed, they catch the ball very well. I can name a lot of things. Hopefully [tonight] I won't be naming those things and we'll end up winning. There's a reason they have as many wins  as they do."