Less than 24 hours ago, it looked like the Red Sox were cruising toward at worst a series split with Oakland. Now, they'll be lucky to salvage a split of this four-game set after Brad Penny allowed five first-inning runs and the Sox bats struggled against Brett Anderson and the A's at Fenway on Wednesday night.
What happened to the team with the best home record in baseball? What happened to the untouchable starting pitching staff? More importantly, what happened to the Oakland squad that couldn't scrounge up a win on the road, even before it traded away its biggest bat?
Headliner: Anderson wasn't as almost-perfect as he was the last time Boston faced him, but he was still too hot for the Red Sox to handle. Aside from surrendering a three-run jack to Mike Lowell in the bottom of the first, he was stifling, allowing three runs on four hits over six innings.
Special shout-out to Lowell, who proved to Terry Francona that he still deserves playing time, even in the wake of Adam LaRoche's arrival. He filled in admirably for David Ortiz at designated hitter, providing the only offensive firepower Boston could muster all evening.
Dirt Dog: A's third baseman Adam Kennedy has been infuriating to Boston pitching during this series. Over the first two games, he hit .583 and slugged .667 with a .583 on-base percentage. Wednesday was no different, as he set the tone with a leadoff homer against Red Sox starter Penny.
Special shout-out to Kurt Suzuki, who also tallied a homer against Boston — and has reached base safely in every single game he's played against the Red Sox in his career. He finished Wednesday night 2-for-5 with two runs scored.
Better Luck Next Time: From the look of the first inning, it seemed like Penny would be very lucky to reach the third. He lasted longer than expected — he managed to meet his traditional five-inning quota — but the results were more disastrous than his 1.59 ERA over his last five Fenway starts predicted. Penny struggled through an epic five-run first that featured a home run, two singles and a walk before he even recorded an out, and he left five-plus frames later after surrendering a total of seven hits and seven runs. Still, he deserves kudos; after using 37 pitches to get through his first inning, he was pretty economical over the next four.
Special shout-out to Kevin Youkilis, who struck out four times.
Key Moment: Oakland didn't take long to pick up right where it left off on Tuesday night. Kennedy led off the outing with an opposite field solo shot into the Monster seats, and Orlando Cabrera followed up with an infield single. Suzuki chipped in a single to center that bounced right in front of Jacoby Ellsbury, and Penny loaded the bases by walking Jack Cust. The A's got their second run off a fielder's choice by Ryan Sweeney, and Penny re-loaded the bases by walking Tuesday night's hero, Tommy Everidge.
When Mark Ellis popped out to Jason Varitek, it looked like Boston would escape the inning without further damage — until Rajai Davis struck with a bases-clearing, three-run double to put Oakland up 5-0.
On Deck: Boston needs to get something going during a matinee against the A's on Thursday, or else it better hope for a big in-house shakeup before Friday's trade deadline. Fortunately, Jon Lester (9-7, 3.79 ERA) takes the mound, and he hasn't allowed more than three runs since May. Last time out, he held Baltimore to two runs over 7 1/3 innings.
His opponent is fellow southpaw Gio Gonzalez (2-2, 7.75), who made his major league debut just about a year ago. Against New York on Sunday, he went 6 2/3 innings and allowed one run on just two hits. One start prior to that gem, though, he allowed 11 runs in 2 2/3 innings against Minnesota.
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