|Josh Beckett watches Vladimir Guerrero circle the bases in the seventh. (Matt A. Brown/Associated Press)|
ANAHEIM, Calif. - No truth to the rumor that Red Sox vice chairman Phil Morse, who in the past has given rides to Johnny Damon and the CIA, dispatched his private jet to Pawtucket for David Ortiz, who now has homered in three straight games for the PawSox. Or that the New England Revolution, with their newly discovered talent for apprehending naked miscreants, have offered to serve as escorts should Papi choose to fly commercial.
Ortiz homers for third straight game on rehab assignment with Pawtucket. D7
At least, that was the case yesterday afternoon, when manager Terry Francona was adamant that the Sox would take no shortcuts with Ortiz's rehab assignment. But with Sox owners John W. Henry and Tom Werner present along with general manager Theo Epstein for yesterday's 4-2 loss to the Angels, there's no telling what the Sox might elect to do by morning.
Home runs have not been the issue for the Sox. Manny Ramírez and Kevin Youkilis went deep Friday night, and with Ramirez aboard on a double in the second inning yesterday, Youkilis hit his 17th home run, a career high, to give the Sox a 2-0 lead against Angels lefthander Joe Saunders, who had given Francona a scoreless inning in Tuesday's All-Star Game in New York.
But that would be all the scoring by the Red Sox, who have scored a total of five runs in losing their first two games since the break to the Angels, the team with the best record in the American League and. With four wins in five games against the Sox this season, the Angels are building a case that they could provide more formidable opposition to the Sox in October than they have in the recent past, when the Sox swept them in the division series in 2004 and 2007.
For six innings yesterday, the Angels looked as helpless as usual against Josh Beckett, who pitched a shutout against them in Game 1 last October and had never lost to the Halos in five career starts, postseason included.
But Vladimir Guerrero led off the seventh by hitting a Beckett fastball into the left-field seats, just to the right of the bullpen, and before the inning was over, the Angels would score three more times, all on a triple by pinch hitter Erick Aybar.
"A changeup that caught too much of the plate," said Beckett of the pitch to Aybar, who lashed it down the right-field line into the corner while Torii Hunter (single), Garret Anderson (single), and Howie Kendrick (intentional walk after a sacrifice bunt) all scored.
"Pretty poor pitch selection on my part," he continued, "and the execution obviously wasn't there."
It took Coco Crisp crashing into the center-field wall to catch Casey Kotchman's drive to keep the Angels from tacking more runs in the inning - "He's done it so many times, there's a highlight reel of me throwing my arms up in the air," Beckett said. But until they broke through, the Angels had three singles and a double, and two base runners advancing as far as third base, against Beckett.
"I thought I had to battle a little more today, I didn't have great stuff," Beckett said when asked if he felt as dominating as he'd been against the Angels last October. "They hit a lot of balls at guys and guys made good plays. I pitched better than my numbers showed today, but I pitched just good enough to lose."
The Sox had their chances to spare Beckett that outcome, but were just 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position, leaving two runners on base in three innings and leaving them loaded in the eighth, when rookie Jed Lowrie whiffed on three pitches against Angels setup man Scot Shields.
"Tek [Jason Varitek] had a good at-bat to get to Jed," Francona said, referring to the walk that Varitek was able to draw from Shields, who badly misfired on a 3-and-1 pitch. "I think Jed got a little overanxious, chased some balls that were down, but I've seen Shields do that to a lot of guys."
Dustin Pedroia, who had two of Boston's eight hits for his fourth straight multi-hit game and sixth in his last seven games, singled with one out in the ninth off Francisco Rodriguez, the Angels' All-Star closer. K-Rod then walked J.D. Drew, giving Ramirez the chance at a potential reprise of the epic walkoff home run he'd hit off K-Rod to end Game 2 of the division series last October.
Ramirez had faced K-Rod once this season, flying deep to center to end a 7-5 Angels win in Boston April 24. Had visions of the walkoff flickered through his mind as he strode to the plate yesterday?
"I've got no idea," Ramirez said before strolling away.
Said K-Rod: "I can't be thinking about what he did to me last year."
This time, it was Rodriguez who dramatically thrust his arms skyward, as Ramirez popped out to second and Mike Lowell, on the next pitch, popped to third, giving K-Rod his 39th save. He's on pace for a record 65.
Now it is Tim Wakefield who stands between the Sox and a three-game sweep by the Angels, as if the Sons of Mike Scioscia need further proof of their worthiness against the Sox come October.
"I don't think we look at that," Youkilis said. "We're not worried about the postseason. We're worried about playing good baseball."
Gordon Edes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.