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Dan Shaughnessy

This time, hard to find a ray of hope

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / October 15, 2008
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No more baseball bacchanal at the ancient ballyard.

The Red Sox last night were annihilated again by the Tampa Bay Rays. Final score: 13-4. Fenway was so quiet you could hear a dynasty drop. And that was in the first inning.

There was more noise at Widener Library. There were more laughs, backslaps, and good times at Bill Belichick's daily press briefing in Foxborough. Watching this game was like reading your 401(k) statement.

The Sox aren't officially dead yet, but Fenway Park is already a morgue. Six feet under. So bad. So bad. So bad.

"Sitting through that wasn't a whole lot of fun," said Sox manager Terry Francona. "When it happens to you, you've got to get through it the best as you can, and we'll need to regroup as quickly as we can."

There's no game today, which means the Sox have an extra day to think about their 3-1 deficit in the American League Championship Series and back-to-back beatdowns. It's an extra 24 hours to read the papers and listen to the talk shows. An extra day to hear how abysmal they've been. Little doubt they'd be better off if they were sittin' by the dock of Tampa Bay.

This is where we are obligated to note that the Franconamen overcame this same deficit in their last two trips to the ALCS. In 2004, they trailed the Yankees, 3-0, then 3-1. As recently as last year, they looked as if they were goners when they fell behind the Indians, 3-1. In both series, they rebounded to win, then swept the World Series.

That said, does anybody feel good about their chances against the Rays? It certainly appears that they are losing to the better team this time. The Rays are the first team in postseason history to score nine or more runs in three consecutive games. Tampa Bay has 31 runs and 39 hits in the last three games.

The Rays beat the Sox 10 times in 18 meetings this year. They took it to the Sox in September when they were not at full strength. Now they are operating on all cylinders, and these two games at Fenway have been serious blowouts.

Tim Wakefield took the Sox out of Game 4 before getting two outs in the first inning. It was brutal. Working on 15 days' rest, lugging an abysmal postseason record to the mound, Wake had nothing. His pitches were spinning and they were high. The Rays feasted.

Tampa racked up three quick runs on a walk and back-to-back homers by Carlos Peña and Evan Longoria. Carl Crawford followed with a double to right to give the Rays 10 total bases in a four-pitch sequence. Justin Masterson started getting loose in the first inning. Wakefield was gone in the third, having surrendered another two-run bomb in that inning.

Here's the primary reason the Sox have lost three straight to Tampa Bay: Boston's starters in those three games surrendered 17 earned runs in 12 2/3 innings. That's an ERA of 12.08. They gave up eight homers and allowed a whopping 28 base runners.

Manny Delcarmen was another Boston pitcher roughed up by the Rays. There were moments when you wondered whether Alex Cora or J.D. Drew would be summoned for mound mopup duty. In a playoff game. Instead, it was Mike Timlin.

Like Wakefield, Timlin has given this organization some great moments. But most Sox fans thought they'd seen the last of Iron Mike when he worked the 11th inning of Game 2, which is bound to be remembered as the turning point of the Sox postseason.

"We certainly need to figure it out," said Francona. "We've had a difficult time. We have not had an answer for a lot of things."

Daisuke Matsuzaka gets the ball tomorrow night. Dice-K blanked the Rays for seven innings in Game 1.

Offensively, the Sox are playing what Walpole Joe Morgan termed "dead-ass baseball." There is no life, no spark, no working the count, no relentless attack. They have gotten away from what made them good.

David Ortiz is the ghost of Mo Vaughn and Jose Canseco in the '95 playoffs against Cleveland. He continues to miss his pitch. He continues trying to pull everything through the shift. He's hitting ground balls to the right side, just like Yaz did when he was in a funk. He broke a series 0-fer when he hit a leadoff triple to right in the seventh when it was 11-1.

The Sox' first run came when Kevin Cash homered in the third. That means Francona is going to be told he's a knucklehead when he goes back to ice-cold Jason Varitek tomorrow night.

But that's not the annoying part. No. The annoying part starts when you hear grumbling that they never should have traded Manny Ramírez. There's certain to be a pro-Manny lobby arguing that the Sox would not be in this situation had they swallowed their pride and held on to Ramírez. Not me. The Sox wouldn't even be here if they'd kept Manny.

Try to remind yourself that it's not over yet. It just feels that way.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

American League Championship Series
Series Overview
3
wins
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FROM TODAY'S GLOBE
ALCS ESSENTIALS
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