A few things have changed in 86 years. Players wear numbers on their uniforms now. Fans can keep the foul balls. And the refreshments cost a whole lot more.
Otherwise, 90-year-old Marie Hooper Strain had every reason to believe a visit to Fenway Park yesterday would be little different from the days when her
dad, Hall of Famer Harry Hooper, helped Babe Ruth and the 1918 Red Sox win the franchise's last world championship. But, oh, what a surprise the Sox sprang on the spry Mrs. Strain. Long after her dad's team surrendered fewer than 2 1/2 runs a game amid the dead-ball era, Mrs. Strain traveled all the way from San Francisco only to watch Sox pitchers hand out runs as if they were cheap door prizes.
In a scene that could have made Hooper's daughter dizzy if she weren't so sturdy, Strain saw the Dodgers circle the bases almost at will for a while against Tim Wakefield and two young relievers in a 14-5 rout before 34,671 in the Fens. The loss dropped the Sox 3 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the American League East as Pedro Martinez prepared to pitch the series finale tonight against Hideo Nomo.
No one was more disappointed than Wakefield, who is mired in one of the lonely slumps knuckleballers occasionally encounter. He put the Sox on the path to the ugly defeat by surrendering 8 runs on 10 hits and 3 walks in 4 1/3 innings, though he got little help from reliever Anastacio Martinez.
"I don't know why, but the ball doesn't feel very good in my hands right now," said Wakefield, who has given up 29 hits and 10 walks in 17 2/3 innings while posting an 8.66 ERA over this last three starts. "I'm trying to battle through games, but it isn't working for me right now."
Manager Terry Francona tried to let Wakefield work it out, but the situation became untenable when the Dodgers loaded the bases with one out in the fifth inning.
"You always try to give your veteran guys the benefit of the doubt," Francona said, "but sometimes it just gets to a point where you've just got to get him out of there."
Not that it helped much because nothing worked for Martinez, who allowed the three runners he inherited from Wakefield to score as he walked two, hit a batter, and allowed a single to Cesar Izturis before he handed off to Mark Malaska with two outs in the fifth and the bases loaded yet again.
And Malaska fared no better, allowing Shawn Green to single home two runs and Paul Lo Duca to single home another.
"I wasn't throwing my slider well," Malaska said. "I wasn't throwing it for strikes. Once the batters are able to eliminate that as a factor, it makes it easier for them."
The net result was a seven-run inning for the Dodgers, their largest of the season, as they sent 12 batters to the plate in the fifth and seized a 12-2 lead.
"When you've got to get five innings out of your pen and you're going to young kids," Francona said, "sometimes it doesn't work out the way you want it to."
Francona was so intent on saving Keith Foulke, Alan Embree, and Mike Timlin that he called on first baseman/outfielder David McCarty to make his second relief appearance of the year. The funny thing was, McCarty was more effective than the first three pitchers, retiring the Dodgers in order in the ninth.
McCarty followed Scott Williamson, who looked sharp in holding LA scoreless in the eighth as he recorded three straight strikeouts after Adrian Beltre blooped a single to shallow center.
"These games right here are tough to pitch in," Williamson said. "You don't have all your adrenaline and you really have to concentrate on all your pitches. Sometimes it helps you and sometimes it hurts."
Other than the performances by Williamson and McCarty, the Sox also could take heart in Manny Ramirez's league-leading 17th homer, a two-run shot off Dodger starter Jeff Weaver. David Ortiz also knocked in two runs, giving him a league-leading 54. Mark Bellhorn forced home the only other Sox run by drawing a bases-loaded walk off Weaver in the third inning.
Otherwise, it was a rough afternoon. Nomar Garciaparra, playing for the third time since his return, dodged trouble when he nearly collided with Weaver running out a grounder in the second inning and was grazed on the left elbow with a pitch from Weaver in the third. The Sox ran out so many players that they lost the DH in the ninth, with Kevin Millar entering as a left fielder in Jason Varitek's DH slot. Wakefield was left to wonder where things went wrong.
Over his last three starts, Wakefield's ERA has mushroomed to 4.46 from 3.21. The start was his shortest of the season and he allowed two home runs in a game for the first time since Aug. 20 against the A's, 18 starts ago.
"I don't know what the answers are," he said. "I just know I'm not feeling very comfortable right now as far as the grip, and, obviously, the ball's not moving the way it's supposed to."