|Julio Lugo tries to cheer up spot starter Julian Tavarez after the righthander was pulled following six effective innings. (JASON JOHNS/FOR THE GLOBE)|
No fight in Red Sox
Angels deliver early KO, earn a split decision
There was a moment, brief though it was, when it appeared that hot heads and emotional reactions might prevail. Well, almost. Because it was Los Angeles's Orlando Cabrera -- not Boston's Julian Tavarez -- spouting off, causing benches and bullpens to empty in the third inning of what was otherwise a tranquil day at Fenway Park. No one threw a punch. (Or a bottle, despite Eric Gagné's entrance in the ninth.) No one was ejected. Tavarez stayed even-keeled as Cabrera, who was hit by a Tavarez pitch, barked from the grass near the first base line.
No overreaction by Tavarez. No overreaction by the Red Sox. And that continued into the clubhouse, even though the Sox dropped their second game of the series, 3-1, to the Angels, earning a split as the Yankees beat Detroit and gained another game in the standings, shrinking the American League East lead to four games.
"I don't really care what people's nerves are," Dustin Pedroia said. "We've got a four-game lead with  games left. It's better than being four behind, or in somebody else's situation. We've got to go play well and just keep going.
"Why wouldn't we [have confidence]? We've got the best record in baseball. Let off the panic button a little bit, you know what I mean?"
Hard to do. Especially with the Sox offense being stymied yet again, this time by Joe Saunders. On a day when their fill-in starter, Tavarez, pitched well enough to win, the offense just didn't hit well enough. No comebacks, either.
After Tavarez allowed two runs in the first inning, with Chone Figgins (single) scoring on a single by Vladimir Guerrero and Cabrera (walk) scoring on a fielder's choice by Gary Matthews, the righthander held the Angels hitless for his remaining five innings. He did need help to emerge without further damage in the first, relying on an outstanding back-bending catch by Bobby Kielty to prevent a Casey Kotchman shot from landing in the visitor's bullpen.
Tavarez's line? Six innings, two runs, two walks, two strikeouts. And that one hit batter.
"You always run the risk of throwing a spot starter in there and getting to your bullpen very early, which can kind of backfire," manager Terry Francona said. "We didn't win the game, but we didn't go through our bullpen. [Tavarez] gave us a very strong outing and it allows us over the next couple weeks to not only align our rotation but try to give them proper rest and balanced rest."
But even as good as Tavarez was -- with help from exceptional defense by Pedroia at second -- Saunders was better. Or, as Francona allowed, he was "too impressive."
"He was cutting the ball in on righties," Pedroia said. "He was doing it to lefties, too. The last time we faced them, he was mainly away [in another win, Aug. 7 in Anaheim]. Today he kind of pounded us in a lot."
Which is not to say that the Red Sox didn't have chances. They just came mostly with two outs. Other than the first and third innings, Boston had base runners in each of the eight innings Saunders worked (he went 7 2/3). They had Mike Lowell and Kielty aboard with one out in the second, but Coco Crisp and Julio Lugo flied out. They again had two on in the fourth, before Crisp struck out to end the threat.
Boston's most productive inning came in the eighth, after the Angels had increased their lead to 3-0 by scratching out a run off Kyle Snyder. With two outs, David Ortiz singled to left against the shift. That was it for Saunders. With Scot Shields in, Manny Ramírez walked and Lowell sent an RBI single off the wall in left. J.D. Drew was sent to pinch hit for Kielty and Angels manager Mike Scioscia countered by lifting Shields in favor of Justin Speier.
Speier won, striking out Drew looking to finish the threat. And the Sox could do nothing against Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth in front of a crowd of 36,346 that had experienced some ups and downs in the top of the inning when Gagné came to the mound. Fenway filled with boos, then cheers, and finally a standing ovation as Gagné walked off the field, having struck out the side sandwiched around a pair of singles.
It was progress for Gagné, which should help the Sox, even though losing another game to the Yankees in the standings might not make their fans very happy.
It does, however, make for a good race to the finish. There is no more 14 1/2-game lead. There won't be for the rest of the season.
"Sometimes there's a catch between clinching the division with three weeks left," Lowell said, though he affirmed that, in that case, it's helpful to set up a team's starting pitching. "There's definitely a downgrade in the intensity of the games."
With three games against the Yankees next week -- and the lead at four -- intensity shouldn't be a problem.
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.