They can't expect to win every night. Not with a flu bug that has ravaged their clubhouse, leaving them without their scheduled starter two games in a row. Not with their infield fighting off injuries at every turn. Even with six straight wins under trying circumstances, it had to end at some point.
So it did last night. Even with Jon Lester offering to pitch on short rest, even with the go-ahead run on base in the eighth inning, there would be no comeback. The Red Sox suffered their first loss since falling to the Yankees a week before, a 6-4 defeat to the Angels in front of 38,172 at Fenway Park.
The capacity crowd had come to the ballpark expecting to see Daisuke Matsuzaka on the mound. Instead they got Lester a day early, and perhaps the feeling that a surgical mask might be of more help around Fenway than a glove to catch a foul ball.
"We're going to have to weather this," manager Terry Francona said. "We have some issues the next few days for sure. We're just trying to get hold of this. Getting on a plane [today, to Tampa] is not going to be the best thing for our team. They're not going to let us not do that. We'll just continue to do the best we can.
"We're kind of fighting this as it comes, I mean, it seems to grab somebody different every day. Doctors are doing what they can. Everybody's trying to heed the best advice and also win a game at the same time."
After everything that has transpired recently - from Mike Lowell and Alex Cora going on the disabled list to the illnesses of Jason Varitek and Josh Beckett and Matsuzaka to the back twinge that kept Kevin Youkilis out of last night's game - the Sox had still won six straight. Most of them in the late innings.
Over the last four games, the Sox had scored the winning run in the eighth inning three times. Last night, with the Sox trailing, 5-4, in the eighth, Sean Casey stroked a one-out single to left. Julio Lugo then reached on an infield single when Angels shortstop Erick Aybar couldn't connect with second baseman Maicer Izturis in trying to erase the lead runner.
There were two on and one out. But Jed Lowrie grounded to second, resulting in a double play and ending the Sox' last threat. The Angels tacked on another run in the top of the ninth, making it a two-run game, and Francisco Rodriguez wiped out the Sox in the ninth in 10 pitches.
Craig Hansen, making his first major league appearance since 2006, gave up a go-ahead solo home run to Casey Kotchman in the sixth on an arrow-straight fastball that was supposed to be inside. Hansen was optioned back to Pawtucket after the game to make room for today's starter, Justin Masterson, called up from Double A Portland to make his big league debut.
"There were one or two pitches that I guided, obviously it's a mistake, so they hit it a long way," Hansen said. "Once I let it go, I knew I was guiding it. When you guide stuff, that's when you get hurt."
Lester, who was pitching on three days' rest for the first time, had put the team in a 4-2 hole, the Angels scoring single runs in the first, second, third, and fifth - two on solo shots by Gary Matthews Jr. Lester left after five innings and 80 pitches, but was taken off the hook when David Ortiz evened the score at 4-4 in the fifth with a two-run homer that followed Dustin Pedroia's infield single.
"You can definitely tell the difference," Lester said of starting on short rest. "That's not an excuse, it just didn't feel right. It didn't feel like the normal five days and that could have been my mentality going into the game. It just wasn't the right intensity and didn't feel right from the beginning."
He settled in, though not enough to prevent allowing nine hits, giving him 19 in his last two starts (11 1/3 innings). It could have been worse, too. Kotchman failed to advance from first during a steal of third by Jeff Mathis in the second inning, then got thrown out at home on Izturis's RBI double.
Yet, even with all the roster shuffling and all the demands placed on the healthy players, there seemed to be a bit of a silver lining. First, the team can't stay sick forever, and second, one loss in seven games isn't bad considering the circumstances.
"I was proud of our guys' effort," Francona said. "I don't think you can just be proud when we win. I think we're happier when we win. But a lot of guys are digging deep. We will continue to do that."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.