OAKLAND, Calif. - Josh Beckett is still in Florida. Curt Schilling is stuck on an exercise bike. David Ortiz doesn't have any pages left in his passport for new customs stamps, and there's still one country left before the Red Sox can fall into their own beds.
And yet, through it all, they win. The Sox made it three of four over the Athletics - a two-game split in Tokyo, back-to-back victories here - with a 5-0 win yesterday afternoon before 21,625 in McAfee Coliseum. Soon enough, someone else besides Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jon Lester will start a game for the Sox, but in the absence of the two ranking staff aces, the Japanese righthander and the laconic lefthander gave the Sox a lift no amount of jet lag could keep grounded.
Add home runs by David Ortiz and Jason Varitek, another understudy-as-star performance by shortstop Alex Cora, nine more innings of errorless baseball by record-setter Kevin Youkilis and his still-perfect-in-'08 teammates, plus another day of scoreless relief, this time by Bryan Corey and Manny Delcarmen, and the Sox headed for Toronto with what resembled a spring in their steps.
"I don't think the whole Japanese thing is as big a deal as everybody is making it to be," said Lester, who allowed just three hits and three walks in 6 2/3 scoreless innings in an effort as impressive as Matsuzaka's (6 2/3 IP, 1 R, 2 H, 9 K's) the night before. "Take another stride forward and keep working."
Lester became only the second Sox lefthander in the last 13 years to win here. The other, Oakland reliever Alan Embree, took the loss yesterday, giving up a two-run home run to Ortiz that broke a scoreless tie in the seventh. Another former Sox reliever, Lenny DiNardo, was charged with two runs in the eighth after giving up four consecutive singles, Youkilis knocking home the fourth run with a bases-loaded single off Santiago Casilla. Varitek then took Athletics closer Huston Street deep with a home run in the ninth that didn't need a television replay to validate it.
"It happens," Varitek said of being deprived the night before when umpires ruled his ball had not cleared the yellow line designating a home run. "We won, that's what counts. I've had some good at-bats, that's about all I can say."
Ortiz would beg to differ about the impact of the Asian adventure. Hitless through 12 at-bats this season, Ortiz blooped an opposite-field single in the fifth, then followed a double by Youkilis with his first fence-clearing shot of the season. The Sox had stranded 10 runners through six innings, Oakland starter Rich Harden pitching out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the first.
"I've been fighting a lot of [expletive], man," said Ortiz, whose recuperation from knee surgery has not been abetted by the frequent-flier miles. "Thank God it's early in the season; I can put myself together. But it's hard, man.
"Let me break this down for you. We were in Fort Myers, then we went to the other side of the planet. We came back to LA in one place [Dodger Stadium], then went to another place in LA [the Coliseum], and now we're leaving the country again. You tell me, what do you think?"
And yet the Sox are off to a better start than in either of their last two World Series-winning years, when they split their first four games in both 2004 and '07.
"I guess we're good," Ortiz said when reminded of that fact.
Lester was that and more. He gave up a one-out double in the first to Daric Barton, who was stranded on third when Jack Cust whiffed to end the inning and was the only Oakland runner to advance past first. "He threw a two-seamer that had good late action," said manager Terry Francona. "Add that to his cutter, he had two different ways to go, and he also threw his curveball to lefthanded hitters."
Cora, who reached base in all four plate appearances (two singles, a walk, and a hit by pitch), started double plays in both the second and third. Lester walked Mike Sweeney to start the fourth, then set down the next 10 Athletics until Emil Brown blooped a single off Dustin Pedroia's glove with two outs in the seventh. Corey entered and got Bobby Crosby to foul out to Youkilis, struck out two in a scoreless eighth, then gave the ball to Delcarmen to finish off the Athletics.
"We really focus on the moment," Cora said when asked how the Sox have managed to succeed despite the challenges posed by the travel. "We ended up doing what we always try to do, win a series."
The last out of the game was registered by Youkilis, who fielded Cust's ground ball and stepped on the bag. That's 3, unassisted, if you're scoring at home, and it put Youkilis in the record book alone as the first baseman with the most consecutive errorless games, 194, one more than Steve Garvey, the former Dodger and Padre. Clay Wood, the Oakland groundskeeper, dug up the first base bag after the game and presented it to Youkilis as a memento.
No one on the Sox has made an error, but his teammates have a long way before they can catch Youkilis, who handled a dozen chances cleanly yesterday.
"I thank the Oakland A's for giving me the base, just as a memory to keep around and have something cool to have in the collection," Youkilis said. "It's an achievement you never set out to do, but when it happens, it's great to have."
Gordon Edes can be reached at email@example.com.