Offense dries up in rain
Rangers' Loe blanks Red Sox before game is called in the bottom of the sixth
Last night, the Red Sox were fighting the weather. They were fighting Texas starter Kameron Loe's heavy, biting sinkers. Most of all, they were fighting the pace that the Rangers, who were anxious to make the game official, were setting while the rain continued to pelt the field.
''It just stinks because you feel like you're racing against the innings, especially after they scored first," said Mike Lowell, who stood by a fast-growing pool of water along the third base line. ''It didn't feel like a real baseball game. And now that we did play five, we lose."
The 6-0 loss, which was settled at 10:04 after a 48-minute rain delay, stood in stark contrast to Thursday's postseason-like atmosphere in which the Sox battled the Yankees for a 5-3 win before a packed house in the Bronx. Last night, by the time crew chief Gerry Davis called for the tarp at 9:16, during David Ortiz's at-bat in the bottom of the sixth, most of the 36,102 fans at Fenway had scurried off for warmer and drier conditions, leaving the few faithful stewing in a rainstorm that made the loss feel even more miserable.
''It wasn't playable," Kevin Youkilis said of the conditions later in the game. ''It was getting real bad, real quick. It wasn't easy. I understand that they tried to get the game in looking at the weather forecast for the next two days."
The Sox' bats, which wore out the Yankee bullpen Thursday, were soaked more by Loe's sinker than the raindrops that hammered the field, especially by the third inning. In the third, already down, 4-0, the Sox had runners on second and third with one out. But Loe (2-3, 4.23 ERA) got Mark Loretta to ground to third, where Hank Blalock kept Alex Gonzalez from scoring before throwing to first.
An inning later, the Sox repeated the trick after Trot Nixon had a check-swing single down the third base line and Jason Varitek, who entered the showdown against Loe hitless in his last 14 at-bats, stroked an opposite-field double. But Lowell grounded to Blalock, who again held the runner at third before throwing to first. With two outs, Wily Mo Peña cranked a full-count hot shot down the third base line, but Blalock went to his right, scooped the ball neatly, and fired across the diamond to Mark Teixeira, who was pulled off the bag, but tagged Peña for the inning's final out.
''We didn't get much going," said Sox manager Terry Francona, whose team recorded five hits. ''When we did, his two-seam sinker was really effective. Guys were coming back saying the movement was pretty good. When we had runners on, we beat the ball into the ground, and that's exactly how he has success."
While the 24-year-old Loe threw 85 pitches en route to his first career shutout and complete game, albeit rain-shortened, Matt Clement, who also relies on a sinker, left pitches high in the zone that the Rangers turned on. Clement was pitching on seven days' rest after his start against the Yankees was pushed back, although he said the layoff wasn't a factor in his scuffles.
Instead, his loss was a result of the Rangers mashing his mistakes. Texas, leading 1-0 after Blalock launched a second-inning home run over the camera stand in center field, scored three runs in the third. Rod Barajas, leading off the inning, laced a double to left field that bounced past Manny Ramírez to the wall. Gary Matthews followed with a bloop single to center that bounced out of the reach of shortstop Gonzalez. Barajas, recognizing that the ball was going to drop, dashed around the bases and beat Gonzalez's throw home.
Matthews was forced on a nice play by Lowell, who backed up on a Michael Young grounder to third and threw to Loretta to force the runner at second. But Phil Nevin, who struck out looking in the first, cranked a double to left that landed on the warning track, scoring Young. Nevin then scored when Blalock singled to right, giving the Rangers a 4-0 lead that the Sox could not dent.
In the fourth inning, Clement was visited by Francona and pitching coach Al Nipper, who wanted to make sure the pitcher wasn't affected by the softening mound. The grounds crew hustled out and dumped dirt on the mound. Clement also appeared to hop uncomfortably in the fifth inning after a pitch to Young.
''My arm felt great," said Clement (3-3, 5.58 ERA). ''It was just that I was having trouble getting my legs comfortable with the ground. But I didn't have the trouble until after I had given up the runs. They hit the ball. That's a good-hitting team. I left a few balls up and they hit them hard. It was more of a struggle with my mechanics and my legs after the runs had scored the last couple innings."
Loe, however, had no such problems. He deliberately took his time on his first warmup pitches before each inning, clearing away loose dirt and making sure his left foot was planting correctly. Perhaps that's why last night, despite pitching only five innings, Loe, who had four strikeouts and allowed only two fly-ball outs, looked like he had his spikes on the Sox' throats.