Commentary

Red Sox can't keep party going

After gala celebration of past, team gets bogged down in murky present

Updated: April 21, 2012, 8:08 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Even as reporters gathered up their tape recorders set before him on the table in the interview room, Bobby Valentine remained in his chair for several long moments, as if he might have something else he had to share or was waiting for one last question.

Finally, the Boston Red Sox manager arose, drumming the table with his fingers, and headed for the door leading to his office.

What more, really, was there to say? The birthday party was a blast. The game, a 6-2 loss to the New York Yankees in which the Bombers hit five bases-empty home runs off Clay Buchholz? Anything but, as Valentine had acknowledged just a few minutes before.

"Before the game was spectacular," he said. "A well-orchestrated, major league presentation of pride and glory. It was spectacular.

"It's a downer now."

Blessed with a summer's day in late April, the Red Sox gave Friday's crowd of 36,770 everything it possibly could have wanted in a pregame ceremony laden with nostalgia, poignancy and star power to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park. To be sure, there were some notable no-shows, such as Roger Clemens, Fred Lynn and Wade Boggs.

But more than 200 players who wore the uniform assembled at the positions where they once plied their trade -- a gathering that included Fisk, Rice, Evans, Nomar, Mo and Pedro, all ultimately huddling around nonagenarians Johnny Pesky and Bobby Doerr.

Former manager (and current ESPN analyst) Terry Francona received the day's most thunderous ovation, and when you throw in the Boston Pops, vintage uniforms, a military flyover and Caroline Kennedy, no one left feeling short-changed by event orchestrator Sarah McKenna (with late-inning help from maestro Charles Steinberg) on the spectacle scale.

But shortly after the final notes of the Pops' rendition of John Williams' new composition, "Fanfare for Fenway," died away, it was back to same-old, same-old, the Sox losing for the fourth straight time on this homestand and the ninth time in 13 games overall.

[+] EnlargeClay Buchholz
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesClay Buchholz said he made five mistakes against the Yankees. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, they all left the yard.

The Sox don't lose four games in a row. Not here. This is the first time they've lost four straight in one homestand since they were swept by the Tampa Bay Rays in April 2010, and it's only the sixth time since the start of the 2000 season they've lost as many as four in a row in a single homestand.

Fenway was only six minutes into its second century when the Yankees seized a 1-0 lead. Dustin Pedroia fought a losing battle with the sun and dropped a popup by leadoff man Derek Jeter, Buchholz uncorked a wild pitch over the head of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Alex Rodriguez, unmatched in current Bombers archvillainy, singled Jeter home.

The Yankees never trailed. Nick Swisher and Eric Chavez went deep in the second. Chavez went deep again leading off the fourth. A-Rod, whose big league career began in Fenway as an 18-year-old, parked the first pitch of the fifth inning on Lansdowne Street for his 631st career home run, breaking a tie with Ken Griffey Jr. for fifth on the all-time list.

And Russell Martin left a bruise on the Sports Authority sign with a two-out home run in the sixth.

"The home runs out of the windup, nobody on, were perplexing," Valentine said.

That's one way to put it. Shocking, disturbing and dispiriting also fit.

In more than 100 years of playing ball at the Fens -- or anywhere else, for that matter -- Buchholz is one of just four Sox starters to give up five or more home runs in a game. The mind-numbing aspect of that stat? This year's staff has done it twice in the first 13 games.

Josh Beckett did it in the second game of the season in Detroit. Buchholz did it in six innings Friday afternoon. Beckett and Buchholz each have had two five-homer games in their careers. So did the freshly retired Tim Wakefield, who was on the premises Friday. Dennis Eckersley, who also was here, was the first to do it, in 1979.

"He had a good curveball," Valentine said of Buchholz. "His fastball was located down nicely a lot of the time. At least four of the times, the [fastballs] weren't located properly.

"He's still building. This a guy who didn't pitch all last year. He's still getting his feet underneath him."

Buchholz, of course, didn't miss all of 2011. He took a regular turn until mid-June when his back gave out and he didn't return, the problem ultimately diagnosed as a stress fracture.

But he had a terrific spring in Florida, which seemingly alleviated any lingering concerns about his health, and no one then was suggesting he was a site still under construction.

"Today was just a matter of missing up in the zone," Buchholz said. "You've got a team that can hit mistakes; you can't miss up in the zone or over the plate. That was the case today.

"It's really simple. I made five mistakes today, and they hit them."

Mistakes come with the territory for any pitcher, of course. They all make them. But when your mistakes are taken out of the ballpark five times in a single afternoon, it raises questions about your capability to correct them.

Beckett has rebounded nicely from the five-homer barrage he absorbed, giving up a total of four runs (one long ball) in two starts spanning 15 innings. Saltalamacchia is confident Buchholz will do the same.

"He looked good in spring," the catcher said. "In spring training, he was really throwing the ball well, his angle was good. Right now, he's a little frustrated maybe. He's trying to overpitch, maybe. But he's got such good stuff that he can really go out there and just throw it and be OK."

Red Sox pitchers so far have given up more runs than any team in baseball -- 80, or just more than six runs per game. And the offense has been sporadic at best. This was the eighth time this season the Sox have scored three or fewer runs.

David Ortiz hit his second home run, which took an umpires' review to be judged as such, but a double by Mike Aviles that was lost in the sun by right fielder Swisher in the fourth was the team's only hit in 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position against Ivan Nova and four relievers.

"We haven't been swinging the bats very well," Pedroia said. "We have to get our pitchers some runs. We just have to have some quality at-bats. We have a great team. We just have to go out and play well and prove it to everybody. We haven't done that the last couple of games. It's early in the season. We'll be fine."

The problem goes beyond the past couple of games. Fair or not, there is a carryover from a 7-20 record in September, which means the Sox are 11-29 over a 40-game stretch, a quarter of a season. Does this turn around?

"Absolutely," Adrian Gonzalez said. "We did it last year."

Last year ended with the manager being fired. In the ninth inning Friday afternoon, one segment of the crowd began to chant, "We want Tito."

That wasn't part of anybody's script.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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