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Making the least of the opportunities

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / September 5, 2010

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It was a gorgeous summer day and night at Fenway, the wind blowing out, a captive crowd that had some pent-up emotion with Manny Ramirez in town. The Red Sox ran into a couple of good pitching performances from John Danks and Gavin Floyd, but their offense was nonexistent. They had just two extra-base hits and scored but two runs over two games, a pair of 3-1 losses to Chicago, with the conditions so ripe for a big offensive night.

The bottom line after a long day: 10 games out.

The last time they were 10 or more games out was after the games of Oct. 1, 2009.

After 136 games last season, they were 79-57, a three-game difference in the loss column when they were 7 1/2 out. The difference was, they were the wild-card team then.

There’s no reason to even use the words to declare the season over, it seems that already occurred after losing two out of three in Tampa Bay, but at least be a spoiler. Do something to make it interesting. Make it tough on the White Sox to reach their quest of beating out Minnesota for the AL Central title. Claw your way to being at least close to making the wild card. At least then you know you went down with a fight.

Victor Martinez spoke about how much pride is in the Red Sox clubhouse following a comeback win in Baltimore last week, but you’d think that would spill over with the team home after a disappointing road trip. Now the homestand is off to a disappointing start and Tampa Bay is coming in for three after Chicago leaves today.

Josh Beckett spoke about the Red Sox being prominent in the spoiler role, but that message apparently didn’t get to the rest of his teammates yesterday.

It’s not as if the Red Sox took their ball and went home. They were close games. The effort was there. There were no dogs on the field. Everyone played hard, but the results were simply horrible.

Nobody had delusions the Red Sox would pipe up and go on a prolonged winning streak to force a confrontation with the Yankees in the final series of the season at Fenway, but at least in games against good teams there was the expectation that they could take a few of these series and cut the games-behind to a more respectable number.

In the nightcap, the crowd got revved up in the bottom of the eighth, first about “Sweet Caroline’’ and then when Mike Lowell came up to hit for Daniel Nava with Adrian Beltre on first base. The crowd loves Lowell, who is playing through a broken rib, and gave him a rip-roaring standing ovation. Lowell popped to first and silenced the crowd to pin-dropping status.

There were failed moments throughout the day.

Game 1, second inning, bases loaded, one out — Bill Hall struck out. Darnell McDonald hit into a fielder’s choice.

Game 1, fifth inning, no out — Hall singled and McDonald walked. Marco Scutaro knocked in one run with a single. The next three hitters (J.D. Drew, Martinez, and Beltre) flew out.

Game 1, sixth inning, two out — Jed Lowrie walked, Hall singled, but McDonald hit into a fielder’s choice.

Game 1, ninth inning — Lowrie led off with a single and took second on defensive indifference. But three straight outs ended the game.

Game 2, third inning, one out — Hall hit a double. Scutaro struck out. Drew walked. Martinez grounded out.

Game 2, fifth inning — A leadoff walk by Ryan Kalish. A single to left by Hall advanced the runner to third. A Scutaro RBI single. The next three hitters go down.

Suffice to say, the Red Sox couldn’t come up with a big hit, a big inning when they needed it most. They were void of any clutch hitting all day. All 5 hours 56 minutes of game time.

“It was just a frustrating day where we couldn’t get the hits to support our pitchers,’’ said Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who started Game 2 behind the plate and made a costly error when he dropped a throw that would have erased Chicago’s first run in the third inning. “Our guys pitched well and you always feel bad when you can’t support that.’’

“That’s baseball,’’ said Scutaro with a shrug. “Lots of ups and downs. You have to stay positive. That’s the only choice you have. [The White Sox] did a great job and we couldn’t come up with the big hit when we needed it. It’s that simple.’’

Scutaro went 2 for 10, Drew 0 for 7, Martinez 2 for 8, Beltre 2 for 8, David Ortiz, 1 for 8. When your top hitters are that ho-hum, you’re not going to beat good pitching.

“We didn’t have enough opportunities and when we did, we didn’t do enough with it,’’ Terry Francona said.

Asked about the team’s plight, Francona said, “All we can do is show up tomorrow and see if we can win. We have to do a better job than today.’’

If they had swept rather been swept, coupled with a Rays loss, the Sox would be six games in back of Tampa Bay in the loss column for the wild card. Instead, they’re 7 1/2 out and now just a half-game ahead of the White Sox for third place in the wild card.

We’re still playing that mathematical game.

Maybe now for the last time.

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