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CLEVELAND -- Score one for the sky-is-falling crowd.
If this wasn't the worst loss yet for the Boston Red Sox, it was certainly the weirdest, an 8-4 defeat to the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday night that dropped them to 0-5, matching the 1996 team that also opened 0-5 and finished out of the money. In the 101 seasons Boston has been in the American League, this is only the sixth Sox team to lose its first five games, and only the third to do so since the end of World War II, 66 years ago.
"This game will humble you in a hurry and it's doing that to us right now," said manager Terry Francona, who says he doesn't watch TV when the club is losing and thus was unaware of an oddity that nonetheless is true, that no team has ever lost its first four games -- never mind five -- and won a World Series.
"So we've got to start acting like we're a good team," Francona said. "We've got to find a way to win."
After this disaster, it wouldn't be a surprise if Sox owner John W. Henry called his new business partner, LeBron James, and asked him if he'd rather have a piece of the Sox instead of the minority stake he now has in Liverpool FC. If the Sox fall again Thursday, A-Rod may receive a warmer reception in the Fens when he trots out to the third-base line on Friday as a member of the visiting Yankees than some of those wearing home whites.
"I'm one of the biggest problems right now. I've got to go out there and play a lot better," said third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who was a central figure not only in the night's most bizarre sequence but who also struck out twice when the Sox were mounting rallies that yielded nothing. "I have to play better for my teammates, and play better for the fans of Boston.
"That's the biggest thing, we're just not getting it done, and we've got to get it done because there are a lot of people who come out every night and cheer us on. And for every guy who hasn't gotten a win yet in a Boston Red Sox uniform, we've got to do it for them too."
The Red Sox had survived a shaky start by Daisuke Matsuzaka, who gave up a two-run home run to Shin-Soo Choo in the first and another run in the second, to remain within striking distance, trailing 3-2 entering the Indians' half of the sixth.
Francona brought in left-handed reliever Dennys Reyes with the idea that he might be able to give the Sox a couple of innings. Instead, the Big Sweat was an absolute mess. He hit the first batter he faced, Travis Buck, in the back. He hit the next batter, Matt LaPorta, who as a right-handed hitter was in the opposite batter's box than Buck, in the foot. He walked the third hitter, Jack Hannahan, who was trying to give himself up by bunting, on four pitches.
|Jason Varitek gets an explanation from plate umpire Dale Scott after failing to tag a runner at home.|
Reyes threw a dozen pitches. Eleven of them were balls. "We tried a few different pitches," catcher Jason Varitek said. "We tried his cutter. We tried his sinker. He just wasn't able to throw strikes."
Reyes, the perspiration still flowing down his face long after the game was over, hardly had the most job security on the club coming into the game. He wasn't added to the 25-man roster as the bullpen's only lefty until just before the team broke camp, and even then Francona made it clear that contractual issues, such as the number of options a player had left, factored into the decision.
In his first appearance, on Opening Day, Reyes walked the only batter he faced, Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton. This, of course, was exponentially worse.
"I was going too quick to the plate," Reyes said. "My arm was too far behind and I couldn't catch up. That was the problem, and I couldn't fix it."
Francona summoned right-hander Dan Wheeler to see if he could repair the damage Reyes had wrought, and when Michael Brantley hit a soft liner toward Youkilis at third, it appeared that he might be able to pull it off.
But as the ball was headed his way, Youkilis was struck with the idea that if he deliberately dropped it, and the umpires didn't call it a dead ball, he might be able to pull off a double play -- or maybe even turn three.
"You try that play a lot of times, you see it a lot where guys drop the ball on purpose," Youkilis said. "Sometimes it works. Usually they call it a dead ball."
He was still undecided whether he would try it, he said, when he realized the ball was a bit farther out of his reach than he realized. That's when he elected to try to make the catch, and dropped it anyway. But the ball fell right at his feet, so he was able to retrieve it quickly, step on the bag and throw home.
Easy double play, right? Well, yes -- and no. Had Varitek tagged the runner, Buck, the Sox would have had two outs. But Varitek was unaware that Youkilis had stepped on the bag and assumed there was a force at the plate. He never tagged the runner, so Buck was safe, and the next batter, Asdrubal Cabrera, broke it open with a three-run home run.
Adrian Gonzalez's two-run homer in the seventh wasn't enough. "Doesn't matter," he said of his first home run in a Sox uniform. "We didn't win."
Varitek was still confounded after the game by what he called "probably the weirdest play I've ever been a part of.
"Obviously, I had no idea," he said of Youkilis getting a force at third. "I'm still trying to learn that right now. Obviously, I should have tagged him.
"I was trying to secure an out and make sure we had the one out at the plate. With the way the ball ricocheted, I never saw him. It was totally my fault."
Gonzalez said he yelled to Varitek, but the catcher didn't hear him. Wheeler, who was closer to the plate, said he also tried to yell, but couldn't get the words out in time. Youkilis said he said nothing, adding that in the big picture, it didn't really change the inning all that much, not when Cabrera homered.
"It might have worked a little too much," Youkilis said. "It might have caught Tek off guard, I think."
Just like this start has caught the baseball world off guard. The Red Sox will try again Thursday afternoon, with their ace, Jon Lester, matched against Indians ace Fausto Carmona.
"I can see us starting with Lester, let the big boy get on a roll and put us on his shoulders," Francona said.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.