By many accounts, the situation was dire. With their middle infield badly depleted, the Red Sox last night had little choice but to tap Mark Bellhorn to play shortstop and Bill Mueller to play second base, each for the first time this season. The bullpen was all but spent. And the water-treading Sox sorely needed a victory to buoy their restless fans from New Haven to Nova Scotia.
So who better to guide them than Pedro Martinez?
"Pedro is a smart guy," manager Terry Francona said as his ace prepared to take the mound against the Orioles. "He knows what's going on. He'll be able to take us where we need to go."
Not this time. In a crazy game that started splendidly and ended miserably for Martinez, he succumbed to some timely hitting by the O's and some wacky defensive twists in the Sox outfield in a 10-5 defeat before 35,023 in the opener of a six-game homestand at Fenway Park.
"Say, `Pedro gave it up today,' that's pretty much it," Martinez said after he lost for the first time in 11 outings since May 16. "Pedro got shelled."
Not so fast. The loss not only turned on a particularly rough night for center fielder Johnny Damon but on the inability of the Sox to flash the trademark resiliency they rode last year to the playoffs. The latter issue particularly troubled a couple of players.
"I think we need to battle a little bit harder," said Gabe Kapler, who hammered a three-run homer and made a dandy defensive play in right field amid the futility. "I think we've had a couple of instances recently where we've gotten behind in a game and have become semi-lifeless, and I think it's important that we show a little amount of tenacity right now."
Damon's ordeal included letting Miguel Tejada's line drive whistle past him in the fourth inning for a two-run triple and figuring in a bizarre defensive sequence in the seventh inning that enabled David Newhan's two-run, inside-the-park homer, which effectively put the game out of reach. "It was just tough breaks out there," Damon said. "Anything that could go wrong went wrong."
Damon had little help on Newhan's drive as left fielder Manny Ramirez inexplicably cut off Damon's relay to Bellhorn, giving Newhan extra time to round the bases. Ramirez fired the ball to Bellhorn, whose throw to the plate arrived far too late, allowing the Orioles to seize an 8-4 lead.
"Manny jumps and makes a highlight catch," Damon said. "Unfortunately, it was an embarrassing one for me and him."
Martinez was far from sharp, despite retiring the first 10 batters, six on strikes. In all, he surrendered eight runs on nine hits and a walk over 6 2/3 innings, spoiling his bid for his seventh win in as many decisions as he dropped to 10-4 with a 4.01 ERA.
"I feel like I made pretty good pitches, they just got to it," Martinez said. "You actually have to give them credit and try to forget about it."
The O's, who scored their final two runs in the ninth inning off lefthander Jimmy Anderson, have feasted on Martinez this season at Fenway, thumping him for 15 earned runs over 11 2/3 innings in two games. Martinez has logged an 11.57 ERA against the Orioles this year at Fenway and a 2.06 ERA there against everyone else.
"They messed everything up," he said of his attempt to pitch deeper into the game and spare the bullpen. "Nothing to say, I just gave it up. Credit the Orioles."
Tejada did the most damage, knocking in four runs against Martinez and five all told. But Newhan was pretty nasty himself, pounding out four hits, including the first inside-the-parker by an Oriole at Fenway since Paul Blair in 1973, and scoring four runs.
Boston's realigned infield, which also included recalled third baseman Kevin Youkilis and first baseman Kevin Millar, was hardly to blame. The four played adequate defense, and Millar even chipped in with a solo homer off Baltimore starter Erik Bedard. For Millar, who went 3 for 3 in his bid to reclaim the regular first baseman's job, it was his first homer since June 18 in San Francisco.
Even though Millar has struggled some at the plate, he has seen enough to share at least a bit of Kapler's concern.
"We just have to get that feeling like we had before the All-Star break, where you win five in a row and get that swagger going," Millar said. "Since the All-Star break, we haven't done that. It seemed like the All-Star Game came at the wrong time for us."
The first five batters in the Sox order managed only one hit, an infield single by Bellhorn in the first inning, as they went 1 for 19 and played a major role in the defeat. The struggle was highly unusual for the Sox, who entered the game having outscored their opponents at home by 70 runs (282-212), the largest margin in the majors.
"[Bedard] was very effective," Francona said. "The first couple of innings I thought we felt pretty good, like we're going to get this guy, and we didn't."
The first hint of trouble for Martinez surfaced in the fourth inning, when Newhan legged out a one-out, broken-bat grounder to third for Baltimore's first hit of the game. Martinez then fell behind in the count to Melvin Mora, who rocked a 3-1 cutter high off the Monster for a double, sending Newhan to third and clearing the way for Tejada to lace his elusive line drive toward Damon.
Just when Damon appeared poised to catch the ball, it sailed past him for the two-run triple.
"I was getting ready to catch the ball about chest-high and throw home, then all of a sudden the ball takes a left turn and I had to make a right turn," he said. "I couldn't believe it. After that play, I saw a few of the Oriole guys get up and say, `Holy bleep,' did you see that ball?' "
The damage could have been worse, but Kapler chipped in by making a diving, backhanded stab of a sinking liner to right-center by Rafael Palmeiro for the second out. Tejada scored on the sacrifice fly to make it 3-0, before Kapler launched his blast in the bottom of the inning to tie the score. The homer was Kapler's third in his last five starts and it came moments after he broke his bat and tried a new one.
"It happened to be Manny's," Kapler said. "It figures Manny's bat is the one that does that."
But a couple of soft liners by Brian Roberts and Newhan spelled more trouble for Martinez in the sixth inning. With no outs and Roberts and Newhan at the corners, Martinez aggravated matters by getting ahead in the count, 0-2, to Mora, only to walk him. Again, Martinez worked ahead of the next batter, Tejada, before he fell to 2-2, and surrendered a bases-loaded, two-run single to stick himself in a 5-3 hole. Javy Lopez aggravated matters moments later when his sacrifice fly drove in Mora, making it 6-3.
With the Fenway crowd hushed by the development, Millar restored some hope by recouping a run with his solo shot to dead center on a 91-mile-an-hour heater with two outs in the sixth. Then came Newhan's crushing blow, leaving the Sox in a situation no less dire than when they started.