OAKLAND, Calif. -- Just when you thought it couldn't possibly get any worse for the Red Sox, 20 minutes before last night's first pitch came the announcement that David Ortiz was scratched from the lineup. Ortiz, in fact, was being sent home, to be evaluated for a possible heart condition.
A makeshift lineup that already had a new face -- first baseman Carlos Peña, summoned from Triple A Pawtucket as rookie pitcher Jon Lester went on the disabled list with back problems -- was shuffled again.
Alex Cora was elevated from ninth to second in the order, Mark Loretta was installed in the No. 3 hole as DH, and rookie Dustin Pedroia, who hadn't been scheduled to play, was placed ninth and played second base. Moments before the first pitch, the Sox also announced that Eric Hinske and Mike Lowell were flip-flopped, with Hinske batting fifth and Lowell sixth.
Just like that, a team that had scored just 16 runs in six games on this trip while batting .188 was missing its linchpin -- Ortiz, who had hit three of the team's six home runs on the trip, including his 47th of the season Sunday.
Last night's lineup managed just six hits, the eighth straight game in which the Sox have not reached double digits in hits.
Loretta has hit in all nine spots in the order in his career, and has done well in limited at-bats in the No. 3 hole (.345, 8 HRs, 61 RBIs in 348 at-bats), but all but two of his at-bats this season have come hitting second and he had just four home runs.
Manny Ramírez? Francona all but ruled out Ramírez playing in the Oakland series.
``I don't think at best we'll see Manny until we get back to Boston," Francona said. ``He says he feels good until he runs."
Ramírez has started just two of the seven games on this trip, and entered last night's game hitless in his only six at-bats.
Asked if he thought Ramírez could pinch hit, Francona said: ``I bet he could pinch hit, but if he aggravates it, we sat one of the best players in baseball two, three, four days then set him back again.
There are conflicting reports about the source of Lester's back problems. Last week, he said he was experiencing symptoms even before he was rear-ended in a car accident on Storrow Drive Aug. 18 as he was driving to Fenway Park before a start against the Yankees. But other reports attribute his condition to the accident.
``He said it was kind of grabbing a little bit, and he was hurting before his last start," Francona said of Lester, who won his last start against the Angels last Wednesday in Anaheim, 5-4, but was just 2-2 with a 7.75 ERA in his last seven starts. ``I spoke to his dad this weekend, and [the team] just felt it best to send him back to Boston and get him thoroughly checked out.
``He's obviously a big part of our future. We've asked a lot of him already and I think we're all concerned that because we're thin we keep sending him out there maybe when we shouldn't."
Francona dismissed the suggestion that the Sox might shut down Lester for the season. ``I don't think that's an area we're in," he said.
Francona suggested Lester may just miss one more start before coming back. He went on the DL retroactive to Aug. 24.
The Haverhill, Mass., native and former Northeastern star, released by the Tigers in spring training before being signed by the Yankees and assigned to Triple A Columbus, had not appeared in a major league game this season. As recently as 2004, he hit 27 home runs and knocked in 82 runs for Detroit, but was released this spring when he batted just .160 in 50 at-bats.
``We'll see," Francona said when asked what impact Pena might make. ``I've missed the guy everywhere he's played. I went to Texas, we traded him. I went to Oakland, we traded him. I guess that doesn't bode well for him here."
Francona was joking, of course. For his part, the 28-year-old Pena, who hit .459 (17 for 37) in 11 games with Pawtucket after exercising a clause in his Yankee deal that allowed him to pursue another opportunity, was ecstatic to be here.
``A dream come true, to be honest with you," said Peña, who said Mo Vaughn was his favorite Sox player growing up.
He finished 0 for 2 with two walks.