Returning home from their best West Coast trip in years and facing a reeling Detroit Tigers team on the front end of a very winnable seven-game homestand, and with their ace on the mound, the Sox fell flat on Friday night at Fenway Park.
Sure, there was a grand slam by David Ortiz with one out in the bottom of the ninth that allowed Boston to pull within 6-5, but that only made the finishing touch, a Mike Cameron strikeout with two men on, that much tougher to take.
"We just needed one more run to keep that game going," manager Terry Francona said. "It's a big hole we dug … that's a lot to overcome."
So, too, might be the Sox' growing deficit in the both the wild card and AL East races. With Tampa Bay defeating New York earlier in the night, Boston found itself entering the last day of July seven games behind the Rays in the loss column and eight back of the Yankees.
The way the club ended its 6-4 road trip, with three straight wins in Anaheim and seven straight solid starts by a suddenly rolling rotation, it figured to hit the ground running at home. In fact, it was almost imperative — after the Sox host Detroit and lowly Cleveland, another 10-game trip looms, this one with a degree of difficulty which far outweighs anything the club could find out in sunny California or the groovy Pacific Northwest.
It begins in a week with the first of four straight at New York. After that comes three in Toronto and three more in Texas, which just took three of four in Fenway Park and entered Friday having won 10 of 14 since the All-Star break.
Contrast that with seven games against the Tigers and Indians, who went a collective 6-18 at Fenway Park over the past three seasons and 12-31 vs. Boston overall. Detroit had averaged 2.8 runs over a 3-11 stretch entering the series and lost their No. 3 hitter, Johnny Damon, just moments before first pitch with upper back spasms. It is the latest in a slew of injuries to hit the Tigers, who also lost starter Armando Galarraga two outs into the fifth when he was hit by a line drive off the bat of Kevin Youkilis.
It left ace Jon Lester with such adversaries as Will Rhymes, Ryan Raburn, Jeff Frazier, Gerald Laird and Danny Worth to contend with. At every turn, the odds were heavily in Boston's favor.
Yet, in perhaps his worst start since April, Lester gave up a career-high 11 hits in six-plus innings. He surrendered two home runs to Jhonny Peralta, who entered the night 2-for-15 without a homer vs. Lester. The aforementioned light-hitting quintet went 6-for-18 (.333) with an RBI and two runs scored.
"I just didn't execute pitches," said Lester, who indicated that he felt "terrible" during warm-ups. "Lineups don't matter; you go out there and execute pitches, and I just flat-out didn't do that tonight."
Lester wasn't the only one taking the blame. Cameron struck out three times and also misplayed a drive to left-center field in the top of the first inning. The ball went off his glove, allowing the Tigers to score the game's first run.
Tough night, Mike?
"On my behalf? Definitely," Cameron said. "As a unit? I guess you could say the same thing."
Ortiz's home run was just a footnote, something to add to his lofty totals. The loss — on a night when the momentum, the pitching matchup, the home-field advantage and the growing sense of desperation were all on the side of the Red Sox — was an even greater blow.