THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

It's broomsville during a lost weekend in Orange County

Manny Ramirez couldn't come up with this Maicer Izturis drive in the sixth inning of Friday's game against the Angels. The Sox stumbled to three losses in Anaheim.
Manny Ramirez couldn't come up with this Maicer Izturis drive in the sixth inning of Friday's game against the Angels. The Sox stumbled to three losses in Anaheim. (Reuters Photo)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / July 21, 2008

ANAHEIM, Calif. - The Red Sox couldn't get out of Orange County fast enough. After last night's third straight loss to the muscle-flexing Angels (the clash of American League titans served as a warm-up act for the vaunted ESPYs) the Sox trudged toward John Wayne Airport where they were scheduled to fly to Seattle.

Safeco should be a safe house for the reeling Franconamen. While waiting four more days for the much-needed return of David Ortiz, the Sox have a chance to get back on message against the worst team (38-60) in the AL.

Certainly there's not much positive to be drawn from the Lost Weekend at the Big A.

Where to start?

Friday night it was Manny flopping on the outfield grass liked a beached seal, unable to locate the baseball until he discovered it was under his buttocks. Maicer Izturis ended up with a 200-foot triple and Ramírez enjoyed a good laugh. Meanwhile, general manager Theo Epstein sat behind the backstop, arms folded, wearing his best Ralph Nadar face. The Red Sox were routed, 11-3, and both managers substituted freely in the late innings, giving it the feel of an exhibition game. This was the night the Sox fell out of first place in the East. We didn't see Manny in the outfield for the rest of the weekend.

Saturday Josh Beckett coughed up a 2-0 lead in the seventh. Boston's ace was victimized by a Vlad Guerrero homer and a three-run pinch triple by the immortal Erick Aybar. The pivotal play came in the ninth when Frankie Rodriguez faced Manny with one on and one out. Some of you might remember how Manny embarrassed K-Rod with his playoff walkoff/Cadillac moment last October, but Rodriguez won Saturday's battle, getting Ramírez to pop to the infield.

Last night, while America waited breathlessly for Justin Timberlake to take the stage for the ESPYs, Tim Wakefield and Manny Delcarmen surrendered a 3-2 lead in the eighth. The Angels hit three doubles and scored three times, setting the stage for Rodriguez again in the ninth. It was K-K-K for K-Rod.

While Boston and New York argue the relative merits of Messrs. Papelbon and Rivera, K-Rod has 40 saves and is on a pace to shatter the season record (Bobby Thigpen, 57).

"We had a lead and didn't hold it," said Terry Francona. "These are the type of games you've got to win."

Boston's post-All-Star break problems are obvious. Without Ortiz, who has been missing since June 1, the Sox lack punch. Jacoby Ellsbury is struggling mightily in the leadoff spot. The whiz kid who made things look so easy last September/October is down to .262. His on-base percentage is .332.

"He's going through a difficult time," acknowledged the manager. "We're definitely a different team when he's on base."

Just as there was once howling for Ellsbury to lead off you might now hear a chorus calling for white-hot Dustin Pedroia (five straight multiple hit games) and Kevin Youkilis to be moved into the 1-2 spots where they once lived.

Fixing the bottom end of the lineup - which features a daily soft parade of Crisps, Coras, Variteks, Cashes, and Lowries - might be tougher. Spots 7-8-9 are consistently killing the Sox offense.

Then there's the bridge to Papelbon. There is none. Francona last night made it clear he has lost all faith in Hideki Okajima. Delcarmen continues to be a trick-or-treat set-up man and it's simply not happening for Craig Hansen. The Sox are looking for help on the trade market and hoping Justin Masterson can get the job done in the meantime - a bridge to the bridge, if you will.

It was hard not to feel bad for Wakefield after the sweep was complete. He went seven-plus innings Sunday, throwing only three bad pitches. All three of his mistakes were crushed.

How frustrating is this, Tim?

"It [stinks]," said the veteran.

The Sox have played 100 games. They are an amazing 36-11 at home, but an equally ridiculous 21-32 on the road. After this cushy week in Seattle they come home to play the Yankees and Angels. The Yankees are only two behind Boston in the loss column. The Angels are 5-1 against the Sox this season.

"We didn't do a very good job in this series," said Francona. "We need to go and beat Seattle now."

He's right. No need to panic. The Sox are only a game and a half out of first place and Big Papi is coming back Friday. The schedule gets friendlier after next week and Boston is well positioned for another playoff run.

But weekends like the one in Orange County make you wonder. It's the fifth time this year the Sox have been swept on the road in a three-game series. That's too many brooms for a World Series defender.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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