When that series came to an end, there was a lot of talk about the visit to Toronto, where the surging Blue Jays were working their way back into the wild-card race. Yet lurking on the back end of the trip was perhaps the most harrowing stop. Few seemed to mention how critical, and difficult, that set will be.
Waiting with a day off are the first-place Texas Rangers, who are 39-24 since the start of June, 4-1 in their last five against Boston and a bit more accustomed to the triple-digit temperatures which await our boys from up north. It's a decidedly inhospitable environment which has been known to chew up and spit out even the best of teams once the dog days of summer arrive, even in years when the Rangers weren't this good.
But this year, they are. The Red Sox will miss Cliff Lee but still have to face a trio in Tommy Hunter, Colby Lewis and C.J. Wilson who are already a combined 4-0 with a 2.70 ERA against Boston this year. The Sox were 1-5 in Arlington last year and are 6-12 against Texas in the last 18 meetings overall.
Absolutely nothing about the series says "ease."
Especially with the way things ended in Ontario.
Had the Sox been able to finish a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays on Thursday afternoon, they would enter the trip south feeling good about themselves. A split of the 10-game roadie would've already been clinched and the wild-card deficit would've been a scant three games behind the idle Tampa Bay Rays.
But shouldas, wouldas and couldas don't mean much when you're trying to get out of third place and you fail to protect a three-run lead.
Boston took a 5-2 advantage into the ninth against Toronto and had John Lackey on the mound aiming for his first complete game with the team. A leadoff homer by Jose Bautista chased Lackey and in came Jonathan Papelbon, who had allowed only one run in his previous 17 2/3 innings.
A double, a single, a stolen base and another double tied it off Papelbon, and Daniel Bard allowed a game-winning sacrifice fly on the one batter he faced. It was the fifth blown save in the last 20 appearances for Papelbon, whose inability to get the job done potentially transforms the road trip.
"There were some pitches he threw that were flat," manager Terry Francona said. "He elevated some pitches and when he did, they hit him hard. It wasn't every pitch, but when he made a mistake they whacked him pretty good."
Four runs scored in a heartbeat, the road to the playoffs got that much steeper and a flight from Toronto to Dallas turned sour. Instead of improving to 5-2 on the swing the Red Sox enter perhaps their most difficult series of the season on a negative note.
The forecast in Arlington from Friday through Sunday calls for high temperatures over 100. The heat there even gets to the home team once in a while. Lee, the Rangers' newest ace, admitted he wore down against the Yankees on Wednesday night, calling it the hottest temperatures he'd ever pitched in. Once removed from the game and hydrated, he watched his bullpen melt down and lose the game in the ninth. Setup man Frank Francisco at one point seemed bothered by the copious amounts of sweat on his arms.
But while the Rangers might have their own issues with the weather, these are the kinds of conditions visiting teams pray to avoid. No such luck for the Red Sox, who have to find a way to scrape themselves off the mat in a tough place to do so.
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