The Red Sox in his years here have tended to "sputter," manager Terry Francona said, the closer they get to the trading deadline.
He didn't say anything about falling apart at the seams.
Playing like they are mightily distracted by the question of whether life as they know it proceeds with or without Manny Ramírez after today's 4 o'clock trading deadline, the Sox reached an embarrassing low in a 9-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels last night, a performance so foul that even Ramírez's latest round of complaining seemed civil by comparison.
"I think right now we're thinking that we have the team that we're going to have," said pitcher Josh Beckett, who was charged with the task of keeping the Angels from completing a three-game sweep, but instead gave up eight runs in 5 1/3 innings, only the fourth time in his career he has given up as many runs in as short a time.
"I don't think we're planning on any caped crusader coming in here and saving our [posteriors]," added Beckett, who insisted the Ramírez melodrama has not affected him - although, in the midst of the carnage, he failed to back up home plate, the first time in his pro career, he said, that has ever happened.
Beckett's oversight resulted in an error charged first to Jason Varitek, then changed to J.D. Drew. That was one of four errors committed by the Sox, matching their season high set April 6 in Toronto, where they were still jet-lagged from their three-country, season-opening trip. A night after the Sox were nearly done in by a no-hitter, they played a no-fielder.
"We've been through this before," said a subdued Francona. "When you rack up wins, it's amazing how things seem to work themselves out, and when you're not winning games, things seem worse, and to myself, too.
"We need to pay attention to detail. We'll sit down Friday as a team and try to, not sort things out, but to make sure we play a certain way. It doesn't ever guarantee you're going to win, but you want to give yourself the best chance to win every night . . . Regardless of what our record is, we need to play a certain way. We need to play better. That's my responsibility."
Beckett threw a pickoff attempt at second base into center field. Rookie shortstop Jed Lowrie couldn't handle Varitek's one-hopped throw to second on a first-and-third steal, an error charged to the captain, allowing a run to trot home. First baseman Kevin Youkilis mishandled a ground ball. All three of those errors came in the Angels' five-run sixth inning, when Vladimir Guerrero's pop fly also fell safely among three players for a double, center fielder Coco Crisp having gotten a late break on the ball.
None of this slop, of course, could be directly pinned on Ramírez, his teammates under some obligation to perform at a higher level than this burlesque witnessed by a full house of 38,042. The Sox have now lost five of six games on this homestand, two of three to the Yankees and three straight to the Angels, who have won eight straight games against the Sox, their first with new first baseman Mark Teixeira in the lineup.
The Rays and Yankees, who had both won by the time the Sox took the field, both gained on the Sox. The Rays now lead the second-place Sox by three games, and Boston is just one game ahead of New York.
Teixeira was more spectator than participant in this beating, going hitless in four trips while walking once. The switch-hitter's bat was not required on a night when Garret Anderson drove in four runs with four hits - two singles, a double, and a two-run home run in the sixth, right after the Sox had closed to within 3-2 on that rarest of events, a Crisp home run in Fenway Park. It was Crisp's first of the season in the Fens.
The Angels, leaders of the American League West, had 16 hits, while lefthander Joe Saunders ran his record to 14-5, limiting the Sox to two runs on five hits and three walks in six innings. Saunders, 4-0 lifetime against the Sox, joined Cliff Lee as the AL's only 14-game winners, while the Angels left town with an 11 1/2-game lead in the division, the biggest in club history.
"It seems to run a pattern around here, where we sputter," Francona had said before the game. "It's happened before. And then we collect ourselves and move on and play well. I certainly hope that's the way we go now. Things around here, when you have some of the things that happened this week and then it coincides with losing some games, it kind of gets a life of its own."
The best antidote, Francona said, is winning. That will have to wait until at least tomorrow, when the Sox play Oakland in the first of a three-game set. It remains to be seen whether Ramírez will be with them. Last night, in an interview with ESPNDeportes, Ramírez reiterated his desire to be traded, saying the Sox "did not deserve him."
He also was spotted by NESN cameras in the Sox' dugout before the game with a homemade sign that read, "I'm going to Green Bay for Brett Favre straight up."
If his teammates see levity in the situation, they're not saying. How to get past the maelstrom created by Ramírez?
"Time," Varitek said. "Time will get us past that. But that can't affect our play. That's going to take care of itself. We can't control that."
"We have to focus on ourselves. If everybody's 3 for 4 every night, and pitching shutouts, I don't think it gets magnified. But that's not happening. So it's easier to point a finger that that is the issue, so the issue has to change in here, and our play has to be better."
Gordon Edes can be reached at email@example.com.