ARLINGTON, Texas - Gregg Zaun had barely gotten his bat through the strike zone, the ball slamming off it and into the stands, before the entire visitors' clubhouse exploded. Most of the Red Sox, arrayed on a set of couches in front of a big-screen TV, had been watching intently as Tampa Bay took the lead on Toronto, as the Blue Jays came back against Jays closer Troy Percival, as that home run soared out of the park.
"Zaun! We love him," one player sang out as cheers erupted from the assembled crowd.
The Rays had lost, giving the Red Sox a chance to close the gap in the American League East to just 1 1/2 games if they could only beat the Rangers last night. There was laughter and there were smiles in as clear a display of scoreboard watching as there could be.
But the cheers had died down by the second inning at the Rangers Ballpark at Arlington. At least the ones not from Rangers fans. That was when a clearly miffed Tim Wakefield was removed from the game - his 500th career appearance with Boston - just five outs in. He stalked off the mound, away from manager Terry Francona, with the second-shortest start of his career.
"I'm not going to make any excuses. I just couldn't find the strike zone," said Wakefield, who was tagged with seven earned runs. "When I did [throw strikes], they hit balls in the hole. One of those days you'd like to forget."
He can be forgiven for not celebrating his milestone. Not that he was alone, as the bullpen allowed eight more runs in a 15-8 rout of the Red Sox in front of 38,208 people. With the loss, the Sox' AL East deficit remained at 2 1/2 games.
After Wakefield left, the Rangers tried their best to up the team's OPS, with two home runs, two triples, and two doubles - all before the seventh inning. But, by then, it was mostly over, as the Rangers led, 13-4. Even though the Sox put together a four-run ninth, it had little affect.
So, though the Rangers hit the bullpen hard, that was different than their approach against the knuckleballer. Because it wasn't that the Rangers had slammed Wakefield. They didn't need to, as Wakefield lost the strike zone completely. After getting the game's first five outs on 12 pitches, Wakefield didn't get another out in his last 37 - most of them balls.
"He had phenomenal movement," said Kevin Cash, who added that Wakefield was "violent in the zone," making him extremely difficult to catch. "He just couldn't quite get it over the plate.
"I think what happened was he got first-pitch outs real quick [in the first inning] and guys realized they were swinging at balls. They kind of took a different approach and said, 'Hey, let's make him get the ball over the plate. He's got a good one tonight, see if he can control it.' It was tough for him to get ahead."
Nine straight Rangers reached with two outs in the second, starting with Gerald Laird's double to left field. That was followed by walks to Chris Davis and Nelson Cruz, and an RBI single by German Duran.
Wakefield hit Frank Catalanotto on the foot to load the bases, then walked in a run by issuing a free pass to Brandon Boggs. Michael Young walked in another, and Josh Hamilton grounded a two-run single to right and Hank Blalock had an RBI single past Wakefield.
That was it. That was when Francona came to relieve Wakefield of his duties, the Red Sox down, 7-1.
"I felt great," Wakefield said. "Physically great, mentally great. Just the inning unfolded so fast. I was trying to get somebody to pop up or hit a grounder or something and it just didn't happen.
"I have no answers for it. Don't know. I wish I did."
For Wakefield, it was his 363d start with the Sox, making him the 23d pitcher in major league history to have 500 appearances and 350 starts with the same franchise. (Tom Glavine and John Smoltz are the only other two active members of that club.)
"I'd rather not take any starter out that early, cause you've got a long haul ahead of yourself," Francona said. "He'd gone through, what,  hitters? We kept trying and trying because he'd gotten two outs. We'll get the third out at some point. When you don't, at some point you've got to make a change."
Francona brought in Chris Smith who, without facing a single batter, did what Wakefield couldn't: end the inning.
With Laird at the plate, Smith picked Blalock off first base to finally send the defense back to the dugout.
Though the Sox would take three runs back in the third on Kevin Youkilis's three-run shot that carried into the Texas night, the Rangers countered with two in their half with a 444-foot Cruz homer to straightaway center.
Cruz doubled his pleasure in the fifth with another homer, this one to left field to put the Rangers up, 10-4.
When the Sox returned to the clubhouse after the game, the cheers were long gone. The Rays game was a pregame memory, the sting of a bad loss having replaced it. But, still, was it a missed opportunity for the club?
"I don't think so," Cash said. "It's three weeks. In those three weeks, we've got six ballgames against [the Rays]. Not that we look ahead or anything. [Today's] a huge game for us obviously. We want to win the series, then take back some momentum to Boston against them.
"If we're going to lose, we're happy they lost also."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.