CINCINNATI - Minor aggravations, major nuisances, a lousy time had by all.
That's how it has been for the Red Sox this spring just about every time they've left Boston, and one night into this six-game trip, which commenced with a 3-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds last night at the Great American Ball Park, that pattern is holding.
The TVs didn't work on the charter flight here, causing the Sox and their planeful of NBA fans to miss all but a few seconds of the Celtics' epic comeback against the Lakers Thursday night.
Jason Varitek never got here. The captain, who had been allowed to spend an extra night at home because of his strep throat, was supposed to take a commercial flight here yesterday afternoon. Instead, traveling secretary Jack McCormick said, Varitek's flight was canceled because of severe weather in the Cincinnati area, he was rebooked on another flight to Cleveland with a connecting flight here, but wound up marooned in Cleveland for hours.
"I told him just to go to the hotel when he gets here," McCormick said.
Varitek wasn't supposed to play, anyway, but that left manager Terry Francona sweating what he would do if Kevin Cash, who caught last night, went down. Cash remained intact for all nine innings, but Manny Ramírez didn't make it to the end of the game. The slugger, who singled home Boston's run, left after striking out in the seventh, telling Francona his right hamstring was too tender to continue. Ramírez began the game in left field, where he hadn't played since May 31 because of his hamstring, but this being an interleague game, DHing was not an option.
So it was Coco Crisp, not Ramírez, who came to the plate in the ninth as a potential tying run with Dustin Pedroia aboard on a leadoff single. J.D. Drew had already struck out for the third time - evidently, Wonderboy doesn't travel well - when Crisp came up against Reds closer Francisco Cordero. He lined to left, Mike Lowell rolled to first, and the Sox were losers for the 11th time in their last 15 games away from home.
This loss went to Justin Masterson, who actually was pitching closer to home than he has all season - he grew up in Beavercreek, Ohio, about 90 minutes from here - but experienced defeat in the big leagues for the first time in his nascent career.
Masterson struck out nine in 6 2/3 innings and allowed just four hits, but two of them were home runs. Reds rookie sensation Jay Bruce led off the home first by lining his fourth home run into the right-field seats, and in the fourth, Adam Dunn lined his 17th home run into the right-center-field seats, the ball arriving so quickly it was as if Dunn had taken it upon himself to singlehandedly comply with Bud Selig's mandate to speed up the game.
Indeed, with the Sox managing just five hits off nine-game loser Aaron Harang (a much better pitcher than his 3-9 record) and the Reds finishing with the four they collected off Masterson, this one was completed in 2 hours 21 minutes, National League baseball, indeed.
The 21-year-old Bruce, who began the season in the minors, qualifies as genuine phee-nom material. In 18 games since his call-up, he is hitting .382, and last night's home run was his fourth.
Before the game, Francona had been asked if he'd seen much of Bruce.
"How can you not?" the manager said. "He's on 'SportsCenter' every night. It's good for baseball. Young kids come up who are good players and look like good kids, I love that.
"I just hope he doesn't make a name for himself this weekend."
With the Sox and Reds on Fox this afternoon, you can expect at least one reference to Bruce Almighty.
Masterson, meanwhile, did nothing to diminish his standing as one of the game's better fresh young faces, the nine whiffs easily topping his previous high of five in four previous starts. He struck out three batters in the first, slipped a third strike past Ken Griffey Jr., the 600-homer man, in the third, and was still going strong when Francona lifted him for Javier Lopez with two outs and nobody on in the seventh after 98 pitches.
"Overall, I was happy," Masterson said. "I just threw three pitches I kind of hung. They made me pay.
"This was probably the best I felt. The ball was sinking real good, that's what my out pitch was, for the most part my slider was moving, and I was trying to keep them off balance with my changeup."
Masterson chuckled when someone asked how well Beavercreek was represented last night. The questioner was looking for a head count of family and friends; Masterson took it more personally than that.
"I think Beavercreek was very well represented," he said. "Of course, you always want to be perfect when you go out there, especially in front of friends and family, but Aaron Harang, he just pitched really good today."
Masterson met Harang while he was attending San Diego State and Harang worked out there with his brother in the offseason. "He probably wouldn't even remember," Masterson said. "I said hi. He's a big guy."
At this rate, they'll be saying the same soon enough about Masterson.
Gordon Edes can be reached at email@example.com.