- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox have turned into some sort of horrible magic trick in 2012.
One minute they're there, and the next minute they're gone. That was the case again Saturday night when it appeared the Red Sox were on the verge of snapping a three-game losing skid, until the Minnesota Twins scored four runs in the top of the ninth inning, handing Boston a crushing 6-4 defeat at Fenway Park.
Boston had snapped a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the eighth inning when pinch hitter Pedro Ciriaco hit his first career big league home run, and teammate Cody Ross provided some insurance with an RBI single for a 4-2 lead.
There was a good feeling filling Fenway given the way the Red Sox scored the go-ahead runs, but their luck quickly turned in the ninth when the Twins pushed across four, including a two-out, three-run home run by Joe Mauer that turned a 4-3 lead into a 6-4 deficit and basically sealed the victory for Minnesota, extending Boston's losing skid to four games.
The lows just seem to keep coming for the Red Sox.
The nightly clichés are becoming old. The one-pitch-at-a-time mentality and the turn-the-page scenarios have grown boring and overused. Still, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine continues to express his belief in this team, whether he actually believes it or not.
"It's a nice day game [Sunday], we'll bounce back," Valentine said after the loss. "Unless they're going to call off the season. If they allow us to play, we'll be out there playing hard."
Some fans on Twitter postgame were hoping this season would be cancelled after reading Valentine's comments.
"Only 54 games left and the season is mercifully over," wrote one fan.
There are probably a lot more out there who feel the same way. But Valentine doesn't.
"We're going to put together a nice little run," he said yet again Saturday. "This was a lousy game to lose, but we had to come back to get the lead. Maybe we'll get the lead and keep the lead."
While Valentine is looking through his rose-colored glasses, most Red Sox players realize these are desperate times. While a four-game losing skid is bad enough, losing in the manner in which the Red Sox are losing is worse.
"They're all devastating now," infielder Nick Punto said. "You get this late in the season and you look at the standings and we're not really sitting in a great position. With the wild card, there are a lot of teams, and we can't afford to lose games like that. [Clay] Buchholz was outstanding tonight and this offense is too good to score those few runs."
Punto, who was a member of the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals last season, was asked if he sees similarities between the club he played for last summer and the team he's playing for now.
"We're mediocre and we're not playing good baseball," Punto said. "We have the talent in here to do it, we just haven't. We know we need to go on a run. The clock's ticking, so it's time to start playing good baseball."
Not surprisingly, Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz did his job -- again.
But the right-hander had to settle for a no-decision after working seven solid innings and allowing just one unearned run on seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts. He's pitched well of late; Buchholz has a 1.20 ERA in his past four starts but only a 1-0 record to show for it.
"He pitched great," Valentine said. "I feel for him like I feel for this whole team right now. For whatever it's worth, his arm felt good and his legs felt bad. He twisted his ankle in the sixth inning and didn't really have the same stuff after that."
Buchholz wasn't about to make any excuses and said the ankle was not an issue. He said it's not about his personal performance, but the end result. There have been plenty of times this season when that result hasn't ended in Boston's favor.
"At times, we've shown signs of being the team that we want to be," Buchholz said. "Then it goes to the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Everything will be going good for five games, then instead of just losing one, we'll end up losing a couple of hard ones in a row.
"It's tough to bounce back when nothing feels like it's going to happen right then. We've got to find a way to get around it, get through it and we still have a couple of months left in the season to do what we need to do."
After Buchholz pitched well and Ciriaco created dramatics, everything went into the tank in the ninth inning.
Minnesota had cut its deficit to one and had two runners on base, but Aceves had two outs and a 2-2 count on Mauer. Boston's closer thought he had strike three on a low, outside fastball, but it was called a ball.
The next offering landed in the Monster seats for a three-run homer.
"It was really close," Red Sox catcher Kelly Shoppach said of the 2-2 pitch. "It was right on the edge. It could have gone either way. The next pitch was a misplaced fastball."
In Aceves' mind, the 2-2 pitch was a strike, but when it was called a ball, he was forced to give in a little more and it resulted in a three-run homer.
"That thing was a strike," Aceves said of the 2-2 offering. "But that's in the past. I have nothing to say to that."
When questioned again about the home run ball, Aceves fired back at home-plate umpire David Rackley.
"Why don't you ask the umpire how big he missed the pitch before," Aceves answered. "Ask him. It's part of the game, mistakes. He made a mistake and I made a mistake on the next pitch and cost us the game."
In the far end of the clubhouse stood David Ortiz.
He's been on the disabled list with a right Achilles strain since July 17 and was eligible to be activated on Aug. 1. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, the slugger's return has been slower than expected and there's still no timetable.
The Red Sox desperately need his bat in the lineup; without him the club is 7-11.
"It's hard, very hard, but it's better to be smart than stupid," Ortiz said. "I want to be out there. It just doesn't depend on me, it depends how fast my injury heals up, so I can go back on the field without any risks. It's a serious injury and you've got to go day by day with it."
From a team standpoint, Ortiz is stunned by the lack of success and the continual setbacks the Red Sox have been suffering through. Nothing is going right, at least not on a consistent basis.
"That's the way things are right now, man," Ortiz said. "I guess we're just going to have to deal with it and come back and try to play better. That's it. We haven't been able to keep up. It's frustrating to look at the results."
There are only 54 games remaining in the regular season, and despite how bad the situation is, the players, and Valentine, remain optimistic that they can turn this around and make a serious push in the final two months of the season.
"Anything is possible. We still have a lot of games left, we just need to get into a streak and try to come back and play better," Ortiz said.
Reality has to set in at some point, right? No matter what is said off the field by Valentine and the players, based on the team's track record this season, it appears impossible for the Red Sox to right all the wrongs and earn a postseason berth.
When this team and the clubs before it have struggled this poorly, the GM, manager or players would conduct a closed-door meeting to discuss the situation and try to find ways to reconcile it. At this point, with the Red Sox falling below .500, talking about it would be a big waste of time.
"We need to have a meeting on the field," Ortiz said.
If not, this sideshow will soon be over.
With the Sox seemingly hitting a new low, Bobby Valentine keeps his chin up.