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Rangers 3, Red Sox 1

Swinging and missing

With offense sinking, Sox drop fifth straight

Nelson Cruz of the Rangers slides in safely to second base as the Red Sox’ Nick Green tries to apply the tag in the fifth inning. Nelson Cruz of the Rangers slides in safely to second base as the Red Sox’ Nick Green tries to apply the tag in the fifth inning. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / July 23, 2009

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ARLINGTON, Texas - When the Red Sox landed in Boston this morning, after what must have been a long ride home from Texas, there seems little question there was comfort in landing in their own beds, on their own pillows, as the prior six games blurred into a nightmarish past. Whatever happened in Toronto and Texas, whatever forces were slowing the Sox’ bats could only have been a twisted phantasm.

Right?

Hardly. Everything was true. They were owners of a five-game losing streak to end their road trip, culminating in a 3-1 loss last night to the sweeping Rangers, a stretch that cost them five games in the standings in five days. They scored just 13 runs in the six games.

“We were terrible this road trip,’’ Dustin Pedroia said. “We stunk. There’s no way around it. It’s unacceptable, not scoring.’’

Before the game, in a conference call announcing the acquisition of a .247-hitting first baseman (albeit one with impressive second-half splits), general manager Theo Epstein had called the Red Sox “a good offensive club having a horrific month.’’ While the latter is certainly true, the former will be tested in the coming months as a team relegated to second in the American League East, two games behind the Yankees, attempts to prove it can hit enough to challenge in the postseason - or even make it.

“It’s crazy, especially a team that is capable to hit like this one is,’’ David Ortiz said. “This kind of funk, it happens. It’s baseball, man.’’

There are no answers, and that includes Adam LaRoche, a complementary piece picked up as insurance for Mike Lowell, and for a little bit of pop. The team-wide slump, which includes an 0-for-22 skid by J.D. Drew, has left the Sox little to say and do. So they will take today off, do their best to exorcise the trip out of their minds, and return to Fenway Park tomorrow to face the Baltimore Orioles.

As Pedroia said, “We just scored one run. I don’t have an answer for that. We’ve got to go back to the basics. See ball, and hit very hard. That’s about it.’’

“Unfortunately, from where we stand, it’s the same story it’s been the last few days,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “It’s not a lack of energy, trying. We’re just collectively not putting any runs on the board. We got a Nick Green solo homer, and that’s all we have to show. That’s a hard way to win.’’

When Clay Buchholz stepped onto the mound last night, he represented the last Sox pitcher to win, which came last Friday against the Blue Jays.

There was hope a few hours before the game, when Rangers starter Vicente Padilla was scratched with flu-like symptoms. Dustin Nippert took the hill for Texas. But even that couldn’t cure the Sox’ ills. The anemic offense remained anemic. Only a 406-foot home run by Green in the third inning got the team on the board.

The Rangers didn’t have such a problem.

Buchholz’s return to the major leagues, quickly enough that he remained on his regular turn in the order, did not go as well as his first appearance of the season. He didn’t last past the fourth inning, handing over a two-run deficit to Manny Delcarmen as he reached 90 pitches. Not only did his pace slow, as it did at his worst moments last season, he didn’t have success even with his decidedly deliberate pitches.

“It’s hard being a starter and having two pitches to go out there and try to get batters consistently out,’’ Buchholz said. “I got to the point where I was trying not to let them hit it anymore, trying to make them swing and miss to not do any more damage and try to keep us in the game. I could have been a lot better. That’s probably only the second game this whole year that I’ve gone four innings in, and it’s completely unacceptable to the standards that I’ve had this year and the strides that I’ve made since last year.’’

Although he got out of situations with men on third in the first and second innings - with two outs in each case - Buchholz wasn’t so lucky in the third. Ian Kinsler led off with a home run to left field to tie the score. More came in the fourth. Nelson Cruz singled to center and moved to third when David Murphy singled to right, Murphy taking second on the throw to third. Cruz scored when Taylor Teagarden grounded to second, and Murphy scored when Elvis Andrus pulled off a suicide squeeze. The score was 3-1 and, with the way the Sox’ bats have produced, that seemed to be nearly an insurmountable lead.

“Pretty surprised,’’ Buchholz said about the squeeze. “That didn’t cross my head at all. It was a good bunt, put it down in the perfect spot. I think if it was 5 feet closer to me I think we would have had a shot at him at home. I don’t think anybody’s expecting that.’’

Nor is anyone expecting the Rangers to go 6 for 6 in stolen base attempts, which they did, including a double steal for the second straight night.

But the problem is not the pitching. The problem is the hitting, which led to a trip Pedroia called “pretty miserable, obviously.’’ Miserable both for the team, and for its place in the standings.

“When we sat down, where we were at the All-Star break in the standings, the way we assessed it is we were basically dead even in a three-team race,’’ Epstein said. “You look at the underlying performances of the clubs, there was basically nothing separating them. We looked at ourselves as being in a dead-even, three-way race. Five days later, we look at it exactly the same way. We’re in a three-way dead heat.’’

Yet the Sox are yielding ground at an alarming pace. The Yankees have won their last six, putting the Sox two games behind, with the Rays just 5 1/2 behind New York. Even the wild-card race is closer, with the Rangers within 2 1/2 games of the Sox.

“The season’s not made in five games,’’ Pedroia said. “We’ve got a long ways to go. We know we’re going to be there in the end. We’ve just got to look in the mirror and start playing better. That’s it.’’

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