On Baseball

Identity crisis remains

John Lackey gave up three runs in the third, three in the fourth, and two in the fifth before he was pulled yesterday. John Lackey gave up three runs in the third, three in the fourth, and two in the fifth before he was pulled yesterday. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
By Nick Cafardo
May 6, 2011

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You expected 7 1/2 hours of baseball the night before to take a toll, but you never expected one team to show so much energy and the other so much lethargy. Strange that it was the road team with the energy and the home team with the lethargy.

The Red Sox are a team still searching for an identity, and yesterday was such a wasted day for them.

What exactly spearheaded the Angels’ 11-0 win? Was it that the Sox were wiped out following a 5-3, 13-inning loss that ended at 2:45 a.m. yesterday? Or was it the way John Lackey came out and instantly deflated his team?

OK, maybe that’s not fair. After all, the offense had something to do with this, too, and the Sox swung the bats as if they had lead weights attached to them. There was no electricity, no thunder, and the Sox looked sleepy.

Manager Terry Francona didn’t even go home. He slept in his office. Players trickled in after getting a few hours of sleep, and they looked so tired it seemed to hurt them to talk.

Which is why the Sox brought up relievers Scott Atchison and Rich Hill to protect themselves in the bullpen. At least those two guys had a reasonable amount of sleep.

Jason Varitek, the second-oldest Red Sox player (to Tim Wakefield) at age 39, caught the entire game the night before. You expected him to look bad after a night like that, but Varitek said he felt fine and had only normal soreness.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia got the nod behind the plate yesterday, and while he and Lackey have clicked at times, Lackey left balls over the plate that were crushed. Today he is looking at a 2-4 record and a 7.16 ERA, and that’s not very good for a pitcher earning $17 million a year in the American League East.

So on a day when the Sox needed energy, they could not draw it from the vibes of the starting pitcher. They could not get it either from the de facto captain, Dustin Pedroia, who sat out for the first time this season after striking out four times in the previous game.

For all the fuss about the Sox’ dominance over the Angels — they had won 15 of 16 games, including six straight this season — the Angels left Boston with some confidence. The Sox certainly didn’t want to create that in a team they may see down the road in the playoffs.

Just when it seems the Sox are going to soar, they fall back again. There has been no real launching pad this season. They are 3-4 on this 11-game homestand — not what they had in mind — and are three games under .500 for the season. They are 14-11 since starting 0-6, but the first goal has to be getting to .500.

Carl Crawford has shown signs of being Carl Crawford, and was even elevated to the No. 2 spot yesterday, but after going 1 for 3, he remains under .200 (.197) for the season. Kevin Youkilis and Adrian Gonzalez went 0 for 8. The only salvation was David Ortiz (3 for 3 with a walk), who continues to add points to his average by going the other way.

“If we had been able to go out there and score a few runs right off the bat, it might have been a different game,’’ said Saltalamacchia. “Instead, they got the runs up there and built on that and we had to play catch-up.

“I think when you have a one-sided score like that, you can draw conclusions, but we were up there trying hard. It just didn’t click for us today.’’

Jed Lowrie felt the Angels were able to carry over their momentum from the night before. He didn’t agree that the Sox were necessarily lethargic, but that they simply could not stop the Angels.

The best chance the Sox had to establish some momentum was in the fifth inning. Ortiz singled but was thrown out at second. Lowrie followed with a double, but after a walk by J.D. Drew, Saltalamacchia ended things with a double-play grounder.

Sometimes games or events can launch a team to positive things, but it can also work the other way. Over the past week, the Sox have had to deal with pitching issues. First Josh Beckett had to be pushed back (combination of illness and shoulder rest). Then Daisuke Matsuzaka had elbow stiffness and was pushed back. Because Matsuzaka pitched in the 13-inning game, he won’t be allowed to start tonight. Matsuzaka is said to be very upset by the decision. He will pitch Sunday, but he sees no reason why he shouldn’t make his regular start.

The Sox placed Dan Wheeler and Bobby Jenks on the disabled list. Both have been disappointing pickups so far. Wheeler didn’t seem to think the calf injury the team pegged on him had much bearing on his slow start, while the “cramping’’ in Jenks’s right shoulder is a result of biceps tendinitis. Both were supposed to be big parts of this bullpen. Now the Sox have called up Atchison and Hill.

Hill pitched very well yesterday, albeit in garbage time. But he could be exactly what Boston needs against tough lefthanded hitters. Atchison may be shuttled back and forth to Pawtucket — perhaps as early as today to make room for Alfredo Aceves, who was in a holding pattern in Pawtucket after being scratched from his start in Scranton.

It’s May, and the Sox are trying to find out who exactly they are and what their long-term roster will look like.

They are still experimenting with things — such as where Crawford best fits, and whether or not Pedroia should indeed be a middle-of-the-order hitter, and what the best place for Aceves is.

It will be a long process. Strange for a team that seemed to have everything in place when the Hot Stove season was over. But that’s the nature of the game sometimes. It’s often said that you really have no idea what you have until about mid-June. It may take the Sox that long to figure out who they are.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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