David Ortiz walked back to the dugout, head down, the roaring crowd suddenly silent. He removed his helmet a few feet from the dugout and walked down the steps. The game was over.
This was supposed to be his time, trailing by one run with two outs in the ninth inning and a runner on. But instead of the ball leaving the park or smashing against the Wall or even dribbling through the right side, instead of Ortiz circling the bases with Julio Lugo racing in front of him, the Red Sox slugger simply trudged back to the dugout.
His popup never left the infield, gathered in by first baseman Brad Wilkerson to end Texas's 2-1 win, expectations falling with the baseball. There would be no heroics this time. Though, along with the crowd, his teammates were waiting for something to happen.
"Why not?" said Julian Tavarez, yesterday's starter.
As in, why wouldn't they expect him to produce at that moment? He has so often in the past.
"History has proven itself," catcher Jason Varitek said. "But do we put the weight of the world on his shoulders? No. He's human. He's going through stuff, trying to find himself still right now. Once he does, he'll lock back in."
Yet it's hard to say when that might be. As the team has experienced an offensive slowdown, even against the woeful Rangers staff, so too has Ortiz, who found out yesterday he had been chosen as an All-Star starter for the fourth straight year then declined to talk with reporters. Ortiz has hit only .250 (7 for 28) in late innings of close games, with one RBI and no home runs.
"I don't think he's real comfortable," manager Terry Francona said. "You don't stay 162 games feeling great about yourself. I know he feels a responsibility, but I also hope he comes up in that situation every time. That's how we feel about him."
With one out and two aboard in the fifth, Ortiz hit a blast to left field, caught just before the Wall by Frank Catalanotto that had seemed ticketed for some green paint, at least. That came just after Kevin Youkilis's line single to left scored Alex Cora with the Red Sox' only run.
"You go through cycles where it seems like scoring runs are very difficult," Francona said. "You go through the periods where we're whacking it all over the ballpark. I hope that cycle starts tomorrow."
In front of a languid crowd of 36,378 that only began to awaken in the eighth inning, the Red Sox struggled to convert on their chances -- the same as the night before -- going 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position and leaving 11 men on base, two in a promising eighth that was delayed by an injury (forearm stiffness) to Rangers reliever Akinori Otsuka.
With J.D. Drew on first and two outs, Varitek got an infield single when he arrived at the bag a split second before Otsuka. Varitek was spiked on the right ankle on the play.
Eric Gagne relieved Otsuka, although he at first didn't realize he was being called in to warm up as Otsuka departed. That left the entire park, Rangers staff and umpires included, looking toward the bullpen with no one emerging, and prompted a rousing round of boos. Despite the chorus, Gagne quickly got Cora to ground to second to end the inning.
It was a waste of a rather impressive performance from Tavarez, who went 5 2/3 innings, allowing one earned run on a walk to Catalanotto and a Wall double by Wilkerson in the sixth.
"Attack, attack, attack," Tavarez said of his strategy. "Keep the ball down. Stay away from the Green Monster out there, because any fly ball is going to be a double."
The other Texas run came in the fourth after some miscommunication between right fielder Drew and newcomer Jacoby Ellsbury in center. The players nearly collided as a long fly ball off the bat of Marlon Byrd fell in, Drew getting an error on the play, on which Sammy Sosa scored from second.
"[It] not being Coco [Crisp] and [Ellsbury] coming across, I kind of had a sense that he may not have heard me call him off," Drew said. "I glanced right at the end because I could still feel him kind of coming and it just put me about a half a step off. When I reached up to grab it, it just tipped off my glove.
"It was just one of them situations where I caught it early 'cause I kind of felt the ball coming back toward me. And I just didn't realize if he heard me or not. I didn't want a big collision out there, us laying on the ground, ball rolling around."
It was the second error of the inning, the first coming on the play before, when Cora couldn't handle a ball hit to short. Tavarez, however, got out of the inning when he struck out Wilkerson swinging on a 90-mile-per-hour fastball and got Adam Melhuse to ground into a double play.
And though he said he wasn't in a good mood after the game, Tavarez was able to digest the loss, the one that put him at 5-6 despite lowering his ERA from 4.60 to 4.39, and move on.
"We've been able to get a lot of ground ball double plays," Tavarez said. "We've been doing our job out there, but our hitters have been struggling a little bit. That's how it goes.
"If you see Manny, Big Papi, they all got big smiles. They know we're good. We are good. Because for some reason we're in first place."