Moving and shaken
Lester as ineffective as Sox’ lineup changes
NEW YORK - The Red Sox have held team meetings and tried several lineup changes in an attempt to stem a collapse that grows more suffocating with each loss.
They even invited a professional wrestler into the clubhouse last week hoping to change the mood around the team.
Nothing has worked.
Now, with five games remaining, perhaps only professional pride can save the Sox from going down in history as baseball’s biggest chokers.
The stagger to ignominy continued yesterday with a 9-1 loss against the Yankees, who knocked Jon Lester out of the game in the third inning. Rookie Jesus Montero homered and drove in four runs as the Yankees piled more dirt on their rivals before a sold-out crowd of 49,556.
The Sox now lead Tampa Bay by 1 1/2 games in the wild-card race as the Rays defeated Toronto, 6-2, last night.
“We all want to win. Now it’s up to us to go win,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “We know what’s in front of is. We just have to play better.’’
No team has ever lost a nine-game lead on a playoff spot in September. But these Sox seem oddly determined to change that. They are 5-17 this month, having dropped three straight and a staggering 15 of 19 games.
Now the Sox face the prospect of a day-night doubleheader today with two struggling starters, Tim Wakefield and John Lackey.
The postgame clubhouse featured a mix of anger, disappointment, and delusion.
Lester lasted only 2 2/3 innings, giving up eight runs on eight hits. The once reliable lefthander is 0-3 with a 10.54 ERA in his last three starts, allowing 21 hits and 16 earned runs over a span of 13 2/3 innings.
“One of those deals. Been getting my [butt] kicked lately,’’ Lester said. “Not a good time to have this stretch.’’
Lester retired the first four batters he faced. Disaster followed.
Robinson Cano singled before Nick Swisher walked. Andruw Jones grounded into the shortstop hole. Marco Scutaro may have had a play at third on Cano, but Mike Aviles was not at the bag. Scutaro instead threw to second. It was too late and the bases were loaded.
Montero followed with an RBI single to left field. Russell Martin, who on Thursday announced how much he hated the Sox, was next. He hit a sinking liner to left field that Carl Crawford tried to catch while sliding, but missed.
Two runs scored. Had Crawford caught the ball, Jones was so far off second base that he would have been doubled off easily, ending the inning with the Sox down by only one run.
“I just tried to make a play at it and I didn’t make it,’’ Crawford said. “That’s pretty much it. I slid for it. You never know which way it’s going to go. I thought I had a play on it, but I didn’t.’’
Said Francona: “I thought it would have been a good play. He didn’t make the play. It’s not an error. But sometimes we need plays to be made.’’
In addition to his well-chronicled offensive woes this season, Crawford has not played the high level of defense expected of him. That play was one he made routinely during his tenure with the Rays.
With three runs in, Lester’s first pitch to Derek Jeter was a 91-mile-per-hour fastball high in the strike zone. Jeter hammered it into the right-field stands for his sixth home run.
Lester stayed in the game for the third inning, but was pulled after Montero had a two-run double to center.
Lester emphatically insisted his series of poor starts are not the result of a hidden injury.
“No. We’re not going to get into that,’’ he said. “I’m not tired. I’m not hurt. There’s nothing wrong with me. It’s nothing physical.’’
Sox starters are 3-10 with a 7.34 earned run average in the last 19 games, fueling the collapse.
The deficit grew to 9-0 in the sixth inning when Montero homered off Junichi Tazawa. It was the fourth home run in 15 games for the 21-year-old Montero since he was summoned from the minor leagues.
The Sox had nine hits off Freddy Garcia (12-8) and five relievers. But once they fell behind, the game was essentially over.
“I think when we get into the playoffs, whoever we play better watch out because we’re going to go in being the underdog,’’ said Adrian Gonzalez, who was 1 for 4 and is hitting .190 against the Yankees this season. “We’re not playing good baseball, but at the same time we can come out tomorrow and win the two games and pretty much be a lock to be in the playoffs. All these things can turn in a matter of 12 or 13 hours, whatever the case is.’’
At 88-69, the Red Sox still have yet to match their win total of last season, a $161 million payroll having so far been wasted.
“Nobody is happy with what’s been going on,’’ David Ortiz said. “We have to keep fighting. We have to come and play, make something happen.’’