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Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Updated: April 6, 1:12 PM ET
Pressure mounting on winless Red Sox

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

CLEVELAND -- Be grateful, Boston Red Sox fans, for small blessings, as you try to comprehend this 0-4 start, the worst by a Sox team since the Sons of Kevin Kennedy lost five straight to open the 1996 season, a rollout from which they never recovered.

At least you did not see Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez together on a stage this winter, telling Jim Gray they were taking their talents to the North End.

Imagine the ridicule the Sox would be exposed to today if they had, now that one big, fat expectoration has landed squarely on the team's great expectations.

Dustin Pedroia
Dustin Pedroia says the Red Sox are overanxious at the plate, but that the offense will settle in soon.

The team that didn't ask for a "Best Team Ever?" sign to be hung outside its clubhouse doors before it played a single game that counted is now faced with the uncomfortable reminder that no team beginning a season 0-4 has ever won a World Series. The 1985 St. Louis Cardinals lost their first four that year and made it to the Series, but once they got there blew a 3-1 lead to the Kansas City Royals.

It's not wired into the DNA of either Crawford or Gonzalez to invite LeBron-like fanfare to their presence on a Red Sox club that arguably made the two biggest transactions of the winter in signing the free-agent left fielder and trading for the slugging first baseman.

But perhaps it is useful to recall the widespread glee that greeted the Miami Heat's early struggles last fall, before the Heat jelled into the powerhouse that everyone anticipated, one that is headed into the NBA playoffs as one of the favorites to win it all.

"Two weeks from now, this will be behind everybody," said Gonzalez, who came to the plate in the ninth inning Tuesday night as the potential tying run but flied out, just as David Ortiz did two batters later to end a 3-1 defeat to the Cleveland Indians.

It's one thing to be swept in Texas, as the Sox were, by the defending American League champions. But to then come to Cleveland and fall to the rebuilding Indians, who have just four players left from the team that pushed the Sox to a seventh game in the 2007 ALCS? That chill crawling up the spines of Sox fans was not caused by the 42-degree game-time temperatures that made Progressive Field anything but the place to be Monday night. (The announced attendance was 9,025, the smallest crowd to see the Sox play since just 8,488 showed up in Minnesota on July 5, 2000.)

"It's not something we'll be talking about in a couple of weeks," Gonzalez said of the team's slow start, "but at the moment we've got to concern ourselves with it."

The concerns are not difficult to spot.

Josh Beckett threw 106 pitches in five innings in his 2011 debut, but gave up just three runs, which makes his the best outing yet by a Sox starter. When the previous three guys -- Jon Lester, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz -- have combined to give up 18 runs and nine home runs in just 14 1/3 innings, that's damning with faint praise.

"You can't throw 100 pitches in five innings," said Beckett, who got only seven swing-and-misses the entire night despite a changeup that was as good as he's thrown all spring. "You're not going to survive very long.''

Facing the Indians' No. 4 starter, Josh Tomlin, who came into the season with a grand total of a dozen big-league starts, the Sox managed three hits in seven innings. Boston did not have a hit from the time Dustin Pedroia singled to lead off the fourth until one out in the ninth, when Pedroia grounded another single through the left side.

J.D. Drew was cut down at the plate by Indians right fielder Shin-Soo Choo attempting to be the second man to score on Jarrod Saltalamacchia's first hit of the season, a two-out single in the second.

Crawford overthrew a cutoff man in the fourth on Orlando Cabrera's RBI single, allowing Cabrera to move up a base and eventually score the go-ahead run on Jack Hannahan's base hit.

Saltalamacchia bounced a throw into center field for an error on Michael Brantley's stolen base in the third, and Sox infielder Marco Scutaro broke late to the bag on Matt LaPorta's delayed steal in the eighth, which drew no throw from the Sox catcher.

Crawford, who was dropped to the 7-spot in the Sox order Sunday and responded with his first two hits, was back in the 2-spot, his normal perch with the Tampa Bay Rays, and went hitless in four trips. Gonzalez, who had five hits in his first two games, is hitless in his past nine at-bats. Scutaro doesn't have a hit in 11 at-bats this season.

"We did a really poor job of being selective and getting good pitches to hit," Gonzalez said. "We've got to get better at that. I can only speak for myself, but today I did a really poor job."

Ortiz took a chance on winning the game with a mighty cut at a 3-and-0 pitch from Indians closer Chris Perez, but fouled it back. He then lined out to left to end it.

"That's baseball, man," Ortiz said. "You just gotta keep on playing. That's what I believe. We don't have just [16] games like the NFL, or 82 like the NBA, you know. We've got 162, so you can figure things out, because this is a hard game to play and you've got to go day by day."

A win or two by now, and no one would be counting every at-bat or mislocated pitch.

"It's the start of the season, so everything's going to be magnified," said Drew, who in 2005 with the Los Angeles Dodgers began the season hitless in his first 25 at-bats. "We understand it. There's enough of a sense of urgency as far as player to player goes, as well as the team. You want to get off to a good start."

With each game, of course, the pressure to win the first one increases.

"If we let it build, it does," manager Terry Francona said. "It's not a lot of fun. But I don't think anyone's going to feel sorry for us. We just have to come out and play the game right and things will work out. But if we feel sorry for ourselves, that won't help."

Beckett uttered similar words when asked about the mounting anxiety.

"There's too much history here," he said. "Everybody here knows how to win. We've got to figure it out. Nobody's going to come out of the blue, feel sorry for us, and help us out. We know what we've got to do."

Logic -- and the Miami Heat -- tell you it's a matter of time. But time is the one commodity the team's impatient fan base famously lacks.

"We're swinging at stuff out of the zone," Pedroia said. "We're anxious. Everyone wants to do good. That's what happens when you see a lot of checked swings, stuff like that. But we'll settle in. Once you settle in, though, it's going to be good. It's going to be good stuff."

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.