TORONTO -- The way Johnny Damon puts it, the Sox felt a ''calm" last season, even as they stumbled along for four months before turning in a benumbing closing act. Why?
''Because there weren't other teams in our division pushing us who really scared us," Damon said. ''This year, we need to win."
Damon's on to something. The Sox finished 20 games above .500 last season against the American League East (48-28), including 14-5 against the Blue Jays. With last night's highlight-lacking 6-1 loss at the Rogers Centre to a baffling Ted Lilly (four hits in 6 2/3 innings, his longest outing of the season), the Sox fell to 11-12 within the division, including 2-5 against the pesky Jays.
The Sox (25-20) wake up in Ontario this morning in second place in the East, four games behind Baltimore (29-16). However, a loss tonight in the series finale against Toronto (25-21), coupled with a win by the Yankees (25-21), and the Sox will head to the Stadium for a weekend series in the Bronx ahead of only Tampa Bay.
''They seem to be more balanced, even without [Carlos] Delgado," said Kevin Millar, who went 0 for 3 against Lilly, lowering Millar's average against lefthanders this season to a perplexing .162 (6 for 37). ''They do a good job of using everybody. They're scrappy. And they've gotten good starting pitching, with [Roy] Halladay and Lilly at the top."
The game lasted a National League-esque 2 hours 20 minutes, and so it shouldn't come as much surprise to hear that Edgar Renteria's third-inning single was the Sox's lone hit off Lilly through six innings. They did manage six base runners in that span, on the hit, three walks, a hit batsman, and an error, but not one advanced beyond second base.
Lilly outlasted Bronson Arroyo, who'd gone eight days between starts while serving his six-game suspension. His performance, off the top, reflected his lack of work. He hit the leadoff man, Reed Johnson, with a cutter. (Varitek was quick to point out that Arroyo did not intentionally hit Johnson, who'd homered in his final two at-bats Tuesday night). Millar followed that with an error on an Orlando Hudson grounder hit right at the Sox first baseman.
Arroyo made an error himself in the fifth. No. 9 hitter Russ Adams doubled to lead off the inning, and Johnson followed with a high chopper toward shortstop. Arroyo and Bill Mueller converged on the ball, Arroyo gloved it, and his throw sailed over Millar's head, scoring Adams to make it 4-0. Johnson reached third on the error and scored on a Hudson sacrifice fly.
''The chopper was a hit," manager Terry Francona said. ''[Arroyo] tried to do too much. I thought he looked a little rusty, out of synch. He hadn't pitched in a while. That's the obvious part. The ball to Millar, [Arroyo] took for granted he was going to catch it and didn't get over. He crossed up Tek [Jason Varitek] with one."
All of that set Arroyo up for the loss, dropping him to 4-1 on the season and ending his marvelous unbeaten streak. Before last night, Arroyo was 9-0 with a 3.48 ERA in 17 starts dating to Aug. 21, 2004.
Arroyo's error was the Sox' second of the night and seventh in the last four games. With that happening, ''pitchers end up throwing more pitches, you're in difficult situations," Francona said.
Arroyo exited after six innings, trailing, 5-0. He threw just 90 pitches, the second-lowest total in his nine starts, and allowed five runs (two earned) on six hits. He struck out one, tying a season low, and didn't walk anyone, but did hit two batters. He hit only two batters in his first seven starts this year, but has hit four in his last two starts.
''Three out of the four were breaking balls," Arroyo said. ''The Johnson one was a pitch that probably would have been a good pitch to anyone else, but he doesn't mind taking one off the shoulder, so he just stood in there and took one, as he should."
The Sox probably should have adopted a similar approach. Lineup spots 1 through 6 -- Damon, Renteria, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Varitek, and Millar -- combined to go 1 for 22 with two walks. Mueller, Trot Nixon, and Mark Bellhorn collected three of the team's four hits and combined to reach base five times. The top two-thirds of the lineup reached base just four times.
Lilly -- who fanned 13 Red Sox last Aug. 23 while hurling a three-hit shutout -- has been granted membership in the ''Rodrigo Lopez Club," a collection of non-aces who pitch like Cy Young winners against the Red Sox.
Millar: ''We just can't find a way to hit Ted Lilly. This guy throws good games against us."
Francona: ''There's definitely a confidence factor. He attacks us with a lot of different pitches. He looks confident. We've had very limited success against him."
And, for that matter, the AL East. The next seven games, by the way? One at Toronto, three at New York, and three back in the Fens against the division-leading Orioles.
''We'll have our chances," Francona said of the remaining games against Toronto. ''We have a lot left. They've outplayed us."