Baseball was back at Fenway Park on Thursday night. The three-day hiatus was complete, several Red Sox players were a bit closer to returning from injuries and those who remain healthy were eager to start fresh.
The sun was shining, the media session with Terry Francona a light-hearted affair and plenty of people were asking "How was your break?" The 38,062 fans on hand likely held hopes for a strong second half by the Red Sox. There was a bit of an Opening Day feel to the whole thing.
Minutes later, those hopes were damaged amid a barrage of hits that gave Texas a 6-0 first-inning lead and cast an immediate pall on the anticipatory audience.
"Hard to spot a team six," Francona said after his team's 7-2 loss. "That's a tough way to play."
The shocking start to the second half stunned nobody more than Tim Wakefield, who was reached for seven runs in two-plus innings, his shortest start in nearly two years.
Warming in the bullpen before the game, Wakefield held the same high hopes that many of those who had waited for baseball the previous three days did. He called his warm-up session one of the best he has had all year. Somehow, it didn't translate.
"I'm as dumbfounded as anyone else," said Wakefield, whose ERA against Texas jumped to 6.33. "I've looked at tape and tried to figure out mechanics. I just didn't have it tonight, the results showed that."
For one batter, however, he did have it. Wakefield struck out Elvis Andrus to start the game. For a second batter, he seemed to have it as well, getting Michael Young on what was a swinging strike three. As Young dashed to first and catcher Kevin Cash threw to Kevin Youkilis for the putout (the ball bounced away from Cash), home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman incorrectly ruled that the ball was foul tipped.
Given a new life, Young lashed a single to left, the first of six straight Texas hits, the last a two-run bomb by Bengie Molina that proved to be more than enough.
"A strike three call that we didn't get and it changed the whole inning," said Bill Hall, who hit one of two solo homers for the Sox. "That guy gets a hit, the next guy gets a hit and there goes the rally."
Francona argued, to no avail, but remained adamant that Young missed everything.
"I don't think he fouled it, or I don't think he would've run," he said. "Most guys don't run when they foul it."
Perhaps it wouldn't have mattered, but the blown call set the tone for the only inning that really mattered in this one and made for a bumpy start to a difficult road ahead for the Red Sox.
Friday's starter for Texas, Colby Lewis, is a solid 8-5 with a 3.33 ERA and has performed well vs. Boston in his career. Sunday features C.J. Wilson, who held the Sox scoreless for 6 2/3 innings at Fenway back in April.
In between, the Sox get their shot at Cliff Lee, the Rangers' brand new ace who has thrown a complete game in four of his last five starts.
In addition, after the difficult four-game set with the AL West leaders is complete, Boston plays an agonizing stretch of 20 out of 27 on the road.
Essentially, it's gut check time, a period which began with such promise Thursday night, but resulted in a downer.