|Brett Anderson was wrapped up by Kurt Suzuki after the A’s lefthander allowed just two hits in his complete-game effort. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)|
Sign of the times
Sox outshined in Smoltz’s home debut
Scroll down the Red Sox averages today, slowly, and try to pick out the common trend. It should not take long: They all start with a ‘2’. Jacoby Ellsbury leads the bunch at .299. It’s true - one game after the halfway point of the season, exactly zero Red Sox can claim a .300 batting average.
The Boston bats apparently are slumping into the All-Star break, a truth 21-year-old Brett Anderson underscored last night in a 6-0 Red Sox loss to the Oakland A’s. After Nomar Garciaparra made his Fenway Park return before 38,294 and John Smoltz made his Fenway debut as a Red Sox, Anderson captured the night with a two-hit shutout.
The masterpiece exacerbated the Red Sox’ recent offensive woes while uncovering Anderson’s vast potential. Anderson struck out nine, fired 111 pitches, and pitched the finest game against the Sox at Fenway since Felix Hernandez yielded two hits and no runs in 2007.
“I don’t think he could have done anything any better,’’ Rocco Baldelli said.
“He absolutely abused us,’’ catcher Jason Varitek said. “We did not swing the bats well at all.’’
That last part may be most troubling, and certainly most urgent. The Sox have batted .193 over their past four games, three of which they have lost, and .231 over their last 10. The All-Star sluggers who carried them the first part of the season have tapered. Kevin Youkilis flirted with .400 deep into May, but he is 2 for his last 22 and batting .214 since June 1. Jason Bay is 4 for his last 32 and .220 since June.
“Some guys that were unbelievably hot have probably come down closer to what their career numbers are,’’ hitting coach Dave Magadan said. “Not having Mikey Lowell is a huge factor for us. But I think it’s one of those things. It’s a cycle of the season. You’re not going to have the same level all year. You’re going to have the ups and downs.’’
The Red Sox don’t seem ready to panic. They played last night without Dustin Pedroia, who attended to his hospitalized wife, Kelly. Before yesterday, only the Yankees and Rays had scored more runs. The Yankees lost yesterday afternoon, so the Sox remained in first place by a game. They still own the best record in the American League.
“It doesn’t always go perfect,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “You get beat up, you don’t swing the bats, the bullpen gives up some runs. But we just need to fight through it. It’s been a stretch here, we haven’t gotten on track swinging the bat well.’’
The opposing starter has rarely helped, the Sox having run into a concentration of some of the best young pitchers in the league. Last Wednesday, they scored one run in eight innings against the Orioles 23-year-old Brian Bergesen. The previous weekend, they scored no runs in six innings off the Braves 22-year-old Tommy Hanson.
Anderson, a lefthander half Smoltz’s age, may have been the toughest yet. He entered with a 4-7 record and a 5.45 ERA, but Francona has seen enough callow flamethrowers to be wary of them. Inconsistency can doom a young pitcher for a full season, but it won’t stop him from ruining another’s team’s night.
“The guy tonight, he pitched,’’ Baldelli said. “He threw all his pitches, and he threw them all wherever he wanted them.’’
Anderson baffled the Sox with sliders and blew them away with high-90s fastballs. Anderson struck out five consecutive batters at one point, sitting down the entire first half of the Sox order. He fooled Ellsbury to end the third, struck out the side in the fourth, and whiffed Bay to start the fifth.
“He went right through us,’’ Francona said.
Garciaparra received an eye-misting ovation in his first at-bat. In his second at-bat, he drove in the only run the Athletics needed in the fourth. They added three more that inning and then one more in the sixth, Smoltz’s final inning.
Smoltz endured the kind of night that makes a pitcher talk to himself, which he did in the sixth, muttering at the dirt. Smoltz had watched his entire start on film before he spoke with reporters. “I’m still scratching my head on some of the hits and some of the plays,’’ Smoltz said.
The Red Sox moved a runner past second base once in the first five innings, when Baldelli walked with two outs and Nick Green pushed him to third by fisting a soft single to right in the fifth. The man then charged with getting the Sox on the board was Aaron Bates, a 25-year-old who started the season in Double A Portland, spent Sunday night in Scranton, Pa., and had one career plate appearance. He struck out on four pitches, swinging through a 97-m.p.h. fastball on strike three.
The Sox had another chance in the seventh. With one out, Bay crushed a ball deep to right-center, hit well but easily high enough for either center fielder Scott Hairston or right fielder Ryan Sweeney to run under.
The A’s had traded for Hairston from San Diego earlier in the day, and perhaps Hairston and Sweeney had not had time to make acquaintances. They performed an I’ll-catch-it-no-you-catch-it dance before Hairston took charge in time to watch the ball bounce out of his glove and on to the warning track. Bay sprinted to third, and Hairston was given a three-base error.
Anderson never blinked. Varitek popped foul to first and Baldelli flied a changeup lazily to right. Bay never left third base and the ‘0’ on the scoreboard behind him remained, a symbol of their recent offensive output.
“We’re a team that will wear you down a lot of times,’’ Bay said. “Guys are going up there and throwing strikes. When we’re not getting in those deep counts, that’s worked against us. I don’t think it’s one guy or one type of guy. It’s just, we don’t have a ton of guys clicking right now. We haven’t put up a ton of runs.
“The offense is not going to be there every time. We’re not going to get 10 runs. But we can be, and need to be, a little better.’’
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