OAKLAND, Calif. — The painful, franchise-altering final day of the 2011 season proved what a difference just one game in the standings can mean to a baseball team.
As the Red Sox left Oakland Coliseum Wednesday afternoon, eager to get back across the country and enjoy a day off before the Yankees arrive at Fenway Park, it was hard not to think they would come to regret this trip.
The Athletics beat the Red Sox, 3-2, to finish off a three-game sweep. It left the Sox slinking home with two victories in seven games against the bottom two teams in the American League West, the Mariners and Athletics.
“Pretty disappointing road trip,” said manager Bobby Valentine, whose team managed only three hits Wednesday.
Red Sox pitchers had a 2.44 earned run average in the seven games and made six quality starts. But the offense was astonishingly inept.
The Sox scored 14 runs on the trip and hit .200. They were 5 for 44 (.114) with runners in scoring position and were held to two or fewer runs in six games.
Over 66 innings, the Sox had 12 extra-base hits and struck out 49 times.
“It’s amazing,” Valentine said. “I don’t know the reason.”
Right fielder Cody Ross was more matter-of-fact.
“Our offense has just been terrible. Don’t want to sugarcoat it, it [stunk], basically,” he said.
The Red Sox started the day with the second-most runs in the American League and the third-highest OPS.
“There’s really no words for it. It’s baseball,” Ross said, “As good as our offense is, to get three-hit today. It’s crazy.
“We’re playing two teams that are sub-.500 and get the crap beat out of us. Can’t dwell on it, though. We’re all pressing, we’re all trying to get something going.”
Only one of the runs on Wednesday was legitimate. That came in the fourth inning when David Ortiz mashed a high fastball from rookie A.J. Griffin over the fence in right field.
It was the 400th home run of Ortiz’s career, the 22d this season.
“I know at some point in my career, when I’m not playing baseball, I’ll look at it from the other side and be like, ‘I had a good career.’ But to look at it right now, it’s just another home run,” a subdued Ortiz said.
Valentine regretted that Ortiz couldn’t enjoy the special moment more.
“David’s a team guy. He knows it’s a great individual accomplishment, we all know that,” Valentine said. “But now it’s tarnished.”
The Sox took a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning on an RBI single by Adrian Gonzalez, who has hit safely in 15 consecutive games. Ortiz walked, took second on a two-out error, and scored on the single.
Aaron Cook (2-2) allowed three runs over six-plus innings, a performance that usually would net a victory. But with his teammates providing little support, it was one run too many.
“He did what he had to do to get us a victory,” Valentine said.
Cook, whose two-hit shutout of Seattle on Friday produced one of the victories on the trip, gave up nine hits and lacked the same control of the sinker.
“I just couldn’t hold the lead. I left some pitches up,” he said.
Brandon Moss homered in the second inning for Oakland. With the Sox leading, 2-1, in the sixth, Moss reached on a popup double that was lost in the sun in shallow left field by shortstop Mike Aviles. Brandon Inge then doubled in Moss with two outs.
Coco Crisp had a triple to open the seventh inning, Cook leaving a sinker over the inner half of the plate that was lined to the gap in right.
“Bad pitch,” Cook said. “Looking back, I should have thrown anything but the pitch I threw. Could have thrown a cutter or bounced a curveball. Anything. His type of approach, a sinker in, he’s going to stay on that a little bit better. It’s just a bad pitch.”
Valentine then went to Andrew Miller. The lefthander had prevented 18 of the 20 runners he inherited from scoring in his previous 23 appearances. But this time his fourth pitch was grounded into left through a drawn-in infield by Jemile Weeks to give Oakland the lead.
Valentine used Franklin Morales, a starter since June 17, to get four outs of the bullpen. He kept the deficit to a run, but the final 10 Sox batters went in order.
Morales, who threw 19 pitches on what was his day to throw in a bullpen session, will start the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Yankees.
The Athletics hadn’t swept a series from the Red Sox since 2008. The Sox are 1-5 against Oakland this season, losing the last five.
Former Red Sox players drove in nine of the 12 runs Oakland scored in the series, adding further embarrassment to the results.
The Sox are 7½ games behind the first-place Yankees, matching their largest deficit of the season. The teams meet four times this weekend before the All-Star break.
Perhaps the sight of their rivals will resuscitate the Red Sox.
“We need something,” Ross said. “We’re better than this. Or we should be.”
Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.