Certainly, ending a long road trip in winning fashion is always good for club morale heading home. Claiming a rare series win in Minnesota couldn't hurt either. And getting fine-tuned before a four-game set against the scary Tampa Bay Rays? Priceless.
Instead, Francona and his players are forced to fly home pondering a downright ugly display which dropped them to 11-21 in Minneapolis since 2001 and set up the weekend series against the Rays as an early measuring stick.
If Thursday is any indication, the Sox come up a bit short.
In an 8-0 loss to the Twins, Boston committed three errors, had a couple more misplays that will not show up in the box score, gave up 15 hits and simply looked overmatched against Minnesota starter Francisco Liriano.
Both Francona and starter Tim Wakefield used the same line to sum it up: "We couldn't stop the bleeding."
"It was kinda a sloppy day all the way around," Francona said.
The sloppiness began in the trainer's room. Center fielder Mike Cameron was a late scratch with an abdominal strain, joining left fielder Jacoby Ellsbury on the sidelines. It forced Francona to put Bill Hall in center for just the second time since 2007 and bat Jeremy Hermida — who was originally out of the lineup — against a tough lefty. Hall committed an error in the second inning and Hermida was 0-for-3 with a strikeout.
However, that was just a sampling of the misery.
Hall's error in the second and Victor Martinez's in the fourth did not lead to any runs for the Twins. But Minnesota got three runs in the fifth and with the Sox trailing 4-0 in the sixth, Adrian Beltre had an unlikely throwing error with one out. It allowed J.J. Hardy to reach and set the stage for another dose of ugliness later in the frame.
Nick Punto followed the error with a single and Denard Span doubled to drive in Hardy. Punto was held up at third on the play and, for a moment, the Sox had Span caught between second and third base. Inexplicably, Martinez tried to get the speedy Span heading back to second, a play that had no chance. Punto scampered home with ease as shortstop Marco Scutaro never even got a throw home, dropping the ball in the exchange from glove to hand.
It was the old 8-2-6 throw-around, and it seemed to sum up a fruitless afternoon that brought an end to an inconsistent 3-3 road trip.
Wakefield, who was charged with five earned runs in 5 1/3 innings, said it will do the team good to get back home.
"Hopefully we can get on a more balanced schedule," he said. "I'm not using that as an excuse, but I think we can play better. Right now we're not playing the best that we can. I think once we get home and get a good home stand under our belt I think we'll be OK."
Wakefield might want to be careful what he wishes for.
For what it's worth, the Rays owned the Red Sox in spring training. More importantly, they possess the skills that can make this a long four days at Fenway (the weather won't make it any better — rain and cold temperatures are in the forecast). Most notably, Tampa Bay will run early and often against the Sox, who have yet to solve their issues in curbing such thievery, nailing just 1-of-11 would-be base stealers in 2010.
The Rays stole 31 bases against Boston in 2009, 10 more than they did against any other team. They were thrown out by Red Sox catchers just four times.
Guys like Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton will be licking their chops. If Boston plays like it did Thursday in Minnesota, the Rays will be downright drooling.
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