OAKLAND, Calif. — Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said a few weeks ago that Bobby Valentine would “unequivocally” manage the team for the remainder of the season.
The strength of that promise is being tested to the greatest degree, as the Sox were uncompetitive again on Sunday in a 6-2 loss against the Oakland Athletics.
That’s six losses in a row, the longest streak of the season, and losses in 11 of the last 14 games. At 62-73, the Red Sox are 11 games under .500 for the first time since midway through the 1997 season.
“It’s unacceptable,” right fielder Cody Ross said.
But it’s reality. The Red Sox were outscored, 33-5, in the three-game series against the Athletics, a team that started the season with a 70 percent smaller payroll.
The crowd of 25,314 at Oakland Coliseum was chanting “Sweep, sweep, sweep” when Ryan Lavarnway struck out swinging to end the game. The Athletics have won nine straight.
Valentine, who has been feisty after losses all season, was asked how all the losing has affected him.
“What difference does it make?” he said quietly. “Don’t mean to be rude.”
General manager Ben Cherington will join the team in Seattle for the final series of what has been a winless road trip.
As of yet, there are no signs the Sox will return to Boston with a new manager. But that could change if there is not some sign of life.
Red Sox pitchers have allowed 54 runs over 48⅔ innings on the road trip. The offense has scored 15 runs while hitting .231. There have been only six extra-base hits and nine walks.
Sunday was the sixth consecutive game that the Sox fell behind by at least two runs in the first three innings. Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-4) was terrible, allowing six runs on seven hits and four walks before he was pulled in the fourth.
“We don’t have the firepower to keep climbing out of big holes early,” Valentine said. “It’s very frustrating. Get in situations, guys want to take to make the other pitcher throw pitches, and they’re getting behind in the count. It’s a tough way to make a living.”
Matsuzaka gave up two runs before he could get an out. Coco Crisp walked to start the bottom of the first inning then Seth Smith hammered a fastball over the wall in right-center.
Stephen Drew homered in the second inning. Then the Athletics scored two more runs in the third. Josh Reddick had a sacrifice fly and Drew an RBI single.
For Reddick, who was traded by the Sox to the Athletics in December, it was his fifth RBI of the series.
Matsuzaka came off the disabled list and pitched well last Monday, allowing one run over seven innings against the Royals. But he was his usual erratic self against the Athletics, throwing 97 pitches before Valentine said to get him.
Matsuzaka showed frustration with the strike zone of umpire Gerry Davis, and according to Valentine had an issue with how Lavarnway was giving him signs from behind the plate. It’s always something with the righthander.
“I wasn’t able to hit the corners today. That made the difference. I wasn’t able to throw with a good tempo,” Matsuzaka said via interpreter Jeff Cutler. “I’m really disappointed as a starter I wasn’t able to do my job today.”
After Aaron Cook lasted 2⅔ innings Friday and Felix Doubront three innings Saturday, the Sox needed Matsuzaka to give the bullpen at least a little rest. Instead, it was leaned on for 4⅓ more innings.
“All I wanted to do today was pitch as long as I can,” Matsuzaka said. “I’m really disappointed in the result.”
Matsuzaka has allowed six or more runs in 15 of his 112 starts with the Red Sox.
Like Matsuzaka, Oakland starter Brett Anderson had Tommy John elbow surgery last season. But Anderson (3-0) has been dominant since his return. He held the Sox to one run on five hits over six innings.
The Sox, trailing 6-0, didn’t score until the sixth inning when Ross had an RBI single. Dustin Pedroia doubled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Mauro Gomez in the ninth.
“We’re not playing good baseball by any means,” Pedroia said. “We’re not doing anything well. You have to show up to the yard and get yourself prepared and play as hard as you can.”
Pedroia acknowledged the Red Sox were going to struggle once they traded Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers Aug. 25. Beyond the loss of talent, it was a sign the front office had given up on the season.
“It’s a big deal. But you still have to go play the game the right way, and we haven’t done that,” Pedroia said. “That’s the part that’s frustrating right now.”