Red Sox manager Terry Francona was asked this week what the reason was for his team's dominance of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who at the time were just 1-15 over a two-year span against Boston and had dropped six straight in the series.
There were two portions of Francona's response that were telling, in light of the turnaround by the Angels the last two days (nights and mornings, too!) at Fenway Park. First the skipper said that trying to figure out stuff like that would "drive you crazy." It rarely makes sense. That point is amplified by the fact that Anaheim bounced back to win the next two, including an 11-0 rout in the season series finale on Thursday. Nobody saw it coming.
Francona also mentioned how sometimes you just catch teams at the right time, maybe at a busy portion of their schedule when they're going through a slump. It is often a matter of good, or bad, timing.
That second point could be amplified going forward, when a few teams may be able to look forward to their upcoming meetings with the suddenly weary Red Sox. First on that list is Minnesota, which has been in town since Wednesday night, waiting, resting and watching as Boston endured a miserable 22-hour stretch that could have a lasting impact.
Consider the highs of just a few nights ago. On Tuesday, Boston had just won its sixth straight against Anaheim by a 7-3 score. The pitching was on a historic run the likes of which the team had not seen in almost 30 years. The bats were breaking out. Dustin Pedroia was making plays all over the field. The Sox were within one game of .500 and climbing fast.
Consider the lows of the next two days. Josh Beckett had another solid start spoiled by rain, which only served to delay the misery of a 5-3, 13-inning loss that took the Red Sox deeper into the morning (2:45 a.m.) than they had ever played. That only made the final result that much more bitter.
"Didn't think I would be talking to you guys at three in the morning," Francona said to reporters after that loss. "If I did, I wish we would've won."
Throw in the fact that the two biggest offseason additions to the bullpen, Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, were put on the disabled list hours later and that Daisuke Matsuzaka – who got the loss in his first career relief appearance — needed to be bumped from his scheduled start Friday, and you have the makings of a suddenly shaky ship preparing to host the rested and hungry Twins, who just took two straight from Chicago and are due for a run.
Oh, and there was also Kevin Youkilis suffering a bruised hand in the 11-0 setback, the latest in a run of ailments for the struggling third baseman.
Each of these potential pitfalls placed even more emphasis on the start of John Lackey on Thursday afternoon. Facing a team he kept off the board for eight stellar frames his last time out, Lackey failed to pick up the slack.
"Last night was rough on the guys," he said. "I definitely think there was a sense of me needing to pitch well to get some momentum going early on, for sure. If I would've pitched well I think guys might've found a little more energy today, for sure. I think my lack of execution and my lack of pitching hurt that."
Daniel Bard threw two innings early Thursday morning. Hideki Okajima did the same. Matt Albers went 1 2/3 and closer Jonathan Papelbon tossed an inning. With Tim Wakefield due to take Matsuzaka's start, the available bullpen arms behind Lackey consisted of call-ups Scott Atchison and Rich Hill, the replacements for Jenks and Wheeler, and anyone else who wanted to summon the chutzpah to pitch twice in just over 12 hours.
Lackey threw 31 pitches over the first two innings, and then 31 more in the third, when it began to unravel. He hit No. 9 hitter Peter Bourjos with an 0-2 fastball to lead things off, surrendered a single, allowed an RBI groundout and then walked Torii Hunter with two outs. Alberto Callaspo followed with a two-run double to cap the first of three straight three-run innings for Anaheim, the last of which saw Lackey leave to a torrent of boos.
Lackey's last pitch was a meaty curveball that rookie Mark Trumbo hammered over the Green Monster for a two-run homer and an 8-0 lead. The pitch, like a lot of things in the back-to-back losses, did not go according to plan.
"We knew going in we had to go deep into the game, so I think we tried to do the best we can to go deep," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "We made a few mistakes. They just came out swinging today knowing we had to throw strikes and go deep."
Francona summed up the effort a bit more succinctly.
"Obviously a bad day," he said of Lackey's start before reassuring that he never questions the effort.
It began to pour at Fenway during the seventh-inning stretch, moments after the Angels scored their 10th and 11th runs. Those still in the park retreated to cover and waited for the storm to pass. Eventually, it did, but the one hanging over the Red Sox right now has the potential to linger.