Perhaps the Red Sox, in all the trading deadline phone calls that will be made in the next two weeks, could work out the switch that might really make a difference: swapping the American League for the National. Barring that scenario -- in which the Red Sox' current .600 winning percentage would place them first in the league -- the team simply will have to readjust to the AL, a group that has left them 4-7 since a 12-game winning streak, all against NL teams.
Fortunately for them, the right team arrives today.
And, with that, goodbye A's.
With Joe Blanton -- and a couple of defensive gems -- shutting down the Red Sox in a 8-1 game that contained no fireworks, either of the ball variety or the brawl variety, the team that seemed to be on the verge of asserting itself in the AL East race is now down to a half-game lead over the Yankees, a 3 1/2-game lead over the Blue Jays, and a hope that it all will balance out.
``It's an average," Mike Lowell said. ``Am I a .600 hitter when I go 3 for 5? Today I went 0 for 4 -- am I a .000 hitter? I don't think you can let your emotions go on such a roller coaster. I think you'd go nuts.
``I think you feel like things are going good when you're winning 12 in a row. The formula's pretty simple. We're doing a lot of good things when we're winning, and there's usually things that we're not executing when we're not, whether it's pitching, defense, hitting, whatever the case may be. Few times do you really win and play poorly."
So, as the Red Sox' bats have fallen into a slumber and their fifth-starter auditions continue, Oakland leaves town with a few more defensive gems -- including two by old friend Jay Payton, who stole hits in the fourth inning from David Ortiz on a slide toward the Pesky Pole and in the fifth inning from Coco Crisp with a running, jumping grab -- and a few more wins. Three of four, to be exact.
``Today it seemed that we were out on the field more than in the dugout, so the heat doesn't help," manager Terry Francona said of Boston's sluggish offense. ``I thought Blanton, he had some run on his fastball, he threw some good changeups, he threw some breaking balls. He was up, down, in, out, changing speeds. He really kept us offbalance and we didn't have very many opportunities. And, when we tried to, their defense today was spectacular at times and didn't allow us to get something going."
After the Red Sox rebounded from an 11-inning loss on Thursday and a 15-3 drubbing Friday with their first shutout of the season (7-0 Saturday), Kyle Snyder wasn't able to contain the A's, turning a bunch of singles in the fifth into five earned runs and his first loss with the Red Sox. Though in the early innings Snyder appeared primed to inherit the fifth-starter slot that could soon be foisted off on the potentially returning David Wells, he couldn't carry over the success of his first four frames into the fifth.
Snyder allowed the first batter to reach in three of the first four innings, but finagled his way out of trouble with a pair of double plays -- one of which he started on a first-pitch comebacker from Nick Swisher -- and four strikeouts. But, in the fifth, the player the Royals designated for assignment gave up two singles to open the inning before hitting Adam Melhuse in the backside with a pitch.
``I ran into some trouble, left a couple balls up, gave up a couple of base hits," Snyder said. ``The hit batsman cost me that inning. Under the circumstances, they were looking to give me an out with the sacrifice bunt. I hit him and wind up with the bases loaded with nobody out. Just not the best inning."
He had a chance to get out of it, though. After walking Marco Scutaro, forcing in the first run of the game, Snyder picked up a pair of strikeouts, both swinging, getting Jason Kendall with a 91 mile-per-hour fastball and Mark Ellis with a 71 mile-per-hour curveball. That left Mark Kotsay, who sent a single straight up the middle to score two, followed by a Swisher line RBI single to right that caused Francona to bring in Rudy Seanez. It was, all told, a five-run inning that featured five hits, all singles, plus the walk and hit batsman.
An inning that, with the Red Sox' recent slowdown at the plate, the team hitting just .250 (36 for 144) over the four games since returning from the All-Star break, wasn't going to be overcome with the three singles -- plus an Alex Gonzalez home run to left -- over the last five innings.
``It's a function of the game where we could have had six to eight more hits today if balls aren't hit at people," said Jason Varitek, one of the few Red Sox hitting well during the series (6 for 15). ``It's one of those things where when you play well, balls fall. When you're not winning games, they don't seem to fall as much. This lineup's fine.
``Pitching has to complement hitting. And it has to start with pitching. When you do that, it allows your offense to expand and do a lot of different things -- hit and run, move runners -- do those things and put constant pressure on teams."
Pitching should be the answer. Or the Royals could be the answer.
Either way, with first place in the AL East on the line, Tim Wakefield and his balky back head out to the mound tonight, looking to find a way to harness the baseball that brought the Red Sox 12 straight wins and a four-game lead on the Yankees.
``If anything I've noticed, the Braves year in and year out always seemed to reel off that 22 out of 28," Lowell said. ``Hopefully we've still got another streak like that in us, and maybe we can separate ourselves in the division."