Everything was going so well. No team in baseball boasted a better record than the Red Sox. Their pitchers topped the American League in ERA. Their batters were averaging 6.2 runs in the Fens. And their refocused fielders had committed only a single error in their previous nine games.
The Sox were sailing so smoothly. Much like the Titanic.
A night after shortstop Pokey Reese knocked on wood (the wall of his locker) in marveling at how well the Sox had played rolling up five straight wins, Terry Francona's crew steamed smack-dab into a streak-busting obstacle, much of it self-constructed.
The league's best pitching staff got whacked around like a pinata. The bats went all but silent. And the Sox defense committed two errors that cleared the way for six unearned runs as the A's romped in a 15-2 laugher before 35,438 at Fenway Park.
"I guess this is too much to ask, but this was probably televised, right?" Francona said. "Just a bad night, a tough night."
It was a night when the neon lights above the park might have been better suited flashing "SOS," as the Sox absorbed their most lopsided defeat since June 19, 2000, when the Yankees pummeled them, 22-1. The Sox surrendered the most runs in the Fens since July 24, when the Devil Rays thrashed them, 15-9. They also coughed up 17 hits, matching their season high.
The loss was so ugly, in fact, that the Sox spiraled to a 12-0 deficit by the fourth inning, marking the first time since July 23, 1999, in Detroit that an opponent has run up at least 12 runs without the Sox scoring.
"Right from the get-go things didn't go our way, and it got worse as the game progressed," Francona said. "The good news is that nobody got hurt."
Yet no one wanted to forget the experience more than Sox starter Bronson Arroyo, who got tagged for nine runs (six earned) on seven hits, including a two-run blast by Eric Chavez, and two walks over just 3 1/3 innings.
"It's tough to forget games like this," said Arroyo, who dropped to 2-2 while his ERA jumped from 4.10 to 5.00. "They happen every single year, a couple times. But it's still tough to swallow."
There were plenty others eager to sleep off the ugliness. Notable among them were Reese, whose second-inning error opened the door for three unearned runs, and third baseman Kevin Youkilis, whose seventh-inning miscue enabled the A's to score three more unearned runs.
"I'm going to just get to the point," Reese said. "We made the errors, they cashed in, and they beat our butt."
Sox hitters, who struck for 21 runs over the previous two games, were unable to gain any traction against Oakland starter Mark Mulder, even though the lefthander walked a career-high seven batters. The Sox had a prime chance in the first inning when Mulder walked Johnny Damon, David Ortiz, and Manny Ramirez to load the bases with one out. The opportunity was especially sweet since Mulder had walked only one batter over the previous 20 innings. But the Sox were unable to capitalize as Jason Varitek was caught looking at a 1-and-2 pitch before Kevin Millar went down looking at an 0-and-2 pitch.
"Everybody knows he's a tough guy," Ortiz said of Mulder. "He made some good pitches."
Mulder, in addition to the seven walks, allowed four hits before he was forced out with a high-pitch count (115) with two outs in the sixth inning.
"If you had told me coming into the game that he would go five innings and change and [throw] 115 pitches with seven walks," Francona said, "I would not have thought the outcome would have been this."
The Sox scored their only runs in the sixth inning after Francona all but ran up the white flag by sending in the first wave of subs as early as the fifth. Reese grounded out to knock in Youkilis with the first run before Doug Mirabelli, who entered the game in the fifth inning, singled home Gabe Kapler with the second run. Youkilis had walked and Kapler had doubled to set up the mini-rally.
But it was a pittance compared with Oakland's offensive mother lode. After the A's chalked up an 8-0 lead and chased Arroyo in the fourth, they battered mop-up man Jamie Brown, with Jermaine Dye doubling home a run charged to Arroyo and Scott Hatteberg launching a three-run homer to compound Boston's misery.
Hatteberg's shot sent Kapler, the right fielder, to the low wall in the corner, where he tumbled backward into the crowd in a valiant, but unsuccessful, effort to prevent the homer. The image captured the futility of the long, forgettable night for the Sox.
The only consolation for them was taking two of three from the A's as they prepared for a weekend series against the Mariners.
"That's what you look at in September, how many series you won," Ortiz said. "We're playing well. We just have to come out [tonight] and do what we've been doing."