Schilling is pounded, ragged Sox are blasted, and Nixon is injured
The bad news came in gale-force waves for the Red Sox yesterday, and whatever legerdemain Theo Epstein is able to pull off before today's 4 p.m. trading deadline may not be enough to soften all the blows after a night the Sox went down, 10-4, to the Los Angeles Angels.
A day that began with news that the Yankees had tapped into George Steinbrenner's vault to acquire Phillies outfielder Bobby Abreu and pitcher Cory Lidle, eliciting an anguished reaction from David Ortiz among others, only got worse. Thirteen-game winner Curt Schilling was pummeled for six runs in five innings, including a three-homer inning (the third) that was only the second of his career. Outfielder Trot Nixon left the game in the third inning after injuring his right biceps on a swing and miss -- an eerie replay of circumstances that occurred 369 days earlier, when Nixon strained an oblique muscle on another swing and miss -- and one that suggested, by his immediate departure, that he could be bound for the disabled list again.
The unspoken fear for club officials is that Nixon tore the muscle and could be lost for considerable time.
``When you get extended on an offspeed pitch, it can be bad," said catcher Jason Varitek, one of Nixon's closest friends on the team. ``Hopefully, the results will show it's a strain and not a tear. We can't afford to lose him. They did the right thing, getting him out of the game when they did."
Reliever Jermaine Van Buren, fronting for a bullpen that could use a reliable veteran addition, retired only one of the five batters he faced in a four-run Angels sixth, and that took a spectacular diving catch by Coco Crisp, who did not distinguish himself later in the inning when he threw a ground ball into the infield after catching Orlando Cabrera's sacrifice fly. No official announcement was forthcoming, but Van Buren's locker had been cleared out and it's likely he was optioned to Pawtucket to make room for David Wells, who is scheduled to start tonight against Cleveland.
Even the celebrity news was a downer. Actor Ben Affleck, sitting in owner John W. Henry's seats next to the Sox dugout, allowed Angels first baseman Howie Kendrick to go unchallenged when he caught Alex Gonzalez's foul fly to end the second inning. Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis made sure Affleck heard about it with an impromptu lecture before taking his position.
``Today is one of those days where [the Yankees] make a huge deal, they win a game, I pitch like crap, we lose a game, and everybody is at the extremes," Schilling said. ``As players, you just can't afford to do that."
But Sox players admitted that with the trading deadline, and almost everyone's name tossed in the mix in rumors -- Mike Lowell, Mark Loretta, Crisp, to name a few -- it's difficult not to be on edge.
``A frenzy," said Loretta, the object of last night's wackiest rumor, that he'd been spotted leaving before the game in street clothes. ``Is it always like this?"
Nixon was not in the clubhouse after the game. His injury was originally called an ``upper right arm strain" in the club's midgame report. Francona identified it as the biceps after the game.
``It's been bothering him off and on since Minnesota," Francona said, which if true means it has been six weeks since Nixon first experienced discomfort. ``He took that swing and you saw what you saw. He'll be MRI'd tomorrow morning and hopefully we'll get a much better read and hopefully we can determine whether it's a couple of days or a DL."
The Sox had the bases loaded in the third and the count was 1-and-1 when Nixon swung and missed at the pitch from John Lackey, and he immediately doubled over in pain. Francona and trainer Paul Lessard came quickly out of the dugout, and walked off the field with the right fielder, who was replaced by Wily Mo Peña.
The injury comes one year and four days to the day that Nixon, with another swing and miss in a game at Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field, strained his oblique muscle and went on the disabled list, missing 22 games. Oddly, that injury also occurred in the third inning. At the time he was hurt, Nixon was batting .293 with 11 home runs and 50 RBIs. He was on the DL from July 27 to Aug. 23. When he returned, Nixon hit just .229 with two home runs and 17 RBIs in 35 games.
Nixon, who was drafted by the Sox in 1993 and has been with the organization longer than any other player, has had his previous two seasons curtailed significantly by injuries. He played in 124 games in 2005, and in 2004 he appeared in just 48 games because of a herniated disk in his back and then a strained left quadriceps. His name also had been linked to numerous trade rumors; as recently as yesterday, the Red Sox were said to have been in the bidding for Abreu, the Phillies outfielder who was traded instead to the Yankees.
It's probably safe to surmise that the news that the Sox had acquired a righthanded reliever, Bryan Corey, from the Rangers, a pitcher who already been designated for assignment by Texas, did little to lift the gloom that enveloped the Sox last night.
Schilling's undressing at the hands of the Angels was probably the day's most startling development, inasmuch as he began the night unbeaten at home (8-0, 2.71). The last Sox pitcher to win his first eight decisions in the Fens was the Eck, Dennis Eckersley, who went 9-0 to open the 1978 season. Schilling also never had lost to the Angels, going 4-0 with a 2.17 ERA in eight career appearances, including three starts.
But Schilling, who had come away from Oakland last week convinced he'd thrown his fastball as well as he had all season, gave up two singles, three doubles, and a triple in the first two innings, when the Angels scored their first three runs, and that was only a taste of the tattooing that would come an inning later, when Orlando Cabrera, Vladi Guerrero, and Juan Rivera all took Schilling deep.
In 3,056 1/3 innings in 537 games, that had happened to Schilling just once in his career, in Chicago nine years ago against the Cubs when Schill was still with the Phillies.
While Cabrera's home run was impressive, reaching the top row of the Monster seats, what Guerrero did to a Schilling offspeed pitch -- a stationary slider or hanging split -- was a true marvel, clearing everything as it disappeared deep into a gorgeous night.
``Mistake after mistake," Schilling said. ``Balls in the middle of the plate. Didn't execute pitches."
Despite the beating he was absorbing, Schilling did not opt for the early exit, coming back out for two more scoreless innings.
Schilling's shellacking was inopportune, in that the Sox were not making it easy for Lackey, who entered the game with a 2.03 ERA but was touched for an unearned run in the first, left a runner stranded on third in the second, and pitched out of a bases-loaded spot in the third, before the Sox finally broke through with three runs in the fifth.