THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

There’s been lots of down time

Victor Martinez crossed off the Sox’ scoreless streak (31 innings) with a two-run HR. Victor Martinez crossed off the Sox’ scoreless streak (31 innings) with a two-run HR. (Kathy Willens/Associated Press)
By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / August 10, 2009

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NEW YORK - There was a 2-0 lead entering the seventh inning Tuesday night at the Trop. Remember that?

Well, there was. Jon Lester was sailing along, but then he hit Carlos Pena to begin the seventh, and you can argue nothing good has happened since.

It was bad in St. Pete, and it was worse in New York, culminating in last night’s sweep-clinching 5-2 loss in Yankee Stadium that might very well have been the most discouraging loss of them all.

Victor Martinez had just parked one into the left-field seats off Phil Coke to break a 31-inning scoreless streak and give the Red Sox a 2-1 lead, and now Daniel Bard was one out away from handing the ball over to Jonathan Papelbon. The Red Sox would salvage Game 4, hop on the plane, head home, and put their worries behind them.

And then . . .

“A quick change of emotions,’’ sighed Terry Francona.

A quick change of emotions, all right, and a lot of noise. For, with two outs and nobody on in the eighth, Johnny Damon would hit one into the Yankee bullpen and Mark (Worth Every Penny) Teixeira would launch one into the upper deck, and the next four men would reach base against Bard and Hideki Okajima, with two of them scoring.

So instead of Papelbon shutting down the Yankees, the operative sound would be that of “Enter Sandman,’’ signifying the entrance into the game of the Greatest Closer of All Time. Mariano Rivera put two men on, but when he needed an out he broke Jacoby Ellsbury’s bat on a puny grounder to first base, and that was that.

The Yankees had swept.

No one’s talking about 0 and 8 now.

It was always ridiculous, anyway, the first five losses to the Red Sox coming in an A-Rod void and the next three when he was just getting back into the swing of things. Far more relevant was the fact that the Yankees had been doing a much better job against the rest of the American League than the Red Sox were doing, and that when the Red Sox arrived here Thursday the balance of power in the AL had already shifted dramatically. Given the respective states of the teams, the Yankees had every reason to win at least three out of four. Any Red Sox fan who didn’t understand that had simply not been paying attention.

The Red Sox can’t worry about the Yankees now. They can only worry about themselves and the fact that they are now officially embroiled in a three-team wild-card race. There’s a lot of time left, anything can happen, yada yada yada, but what it comes down to is the Red Sox must start playing better baseball.

Have they bottomed out? Who knows? They will take the field against the Tigers tonight having scored in one of their last 33 innings, and they came on one swing by Victor Martinez. Fenway Park has been an historic cure-all for whatever ails the Boston bats, so it is a logical assumption they will score a few runs for Brad Penny. As for him, the last time he pitched in Fenway he gave up five runs in the first, so we’re not exactly talking mortal lock here.

The long and short of what happened here in Yankee Stadium III is that on Friday, Saturday, and last night, the Red Sox pitched well and the Yankees pitched better. Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, and Jon Lester combined to allow 15 hits and three earned runs in 20 innings, and it wasn’t good enough for one lousy W.

Beckett was very good Friday evening, but A.J. Burnett was damn near unhittable. Buchholz was totally acceptable Saturday, but CC Sabathia was, yup, damn near unhittable. Lester was very good last night, but Andy Pettitte, despite a rocky moment or two, was resourceful enough to shut out the Red Sox for seven innings. Lester had moments of greatness (five of seven strikeouts looking), but he left one pitch in Alex Rodriguez’s wheelhouse and he slammed it over the Stanley sign in deep left-center to break a scoreless tie in the seventh.

If messrs. Beckett, Buchholz, and Lester match those performances in their next outings, they’ll probably be victorious. That’s because the Tigers aren’t the Yankees, and neither is anyone else.

The Yankees now have the best record in baseball, and it doesn’t appear that anything will get in their way for the rest of the regular season. The lineup is strong from top to bottom, the starting pitching is potent, the bullpen has been solidified by the emergence of Phil Hughes as a shut-down guy in the eighth, and Rivera is having yet another Rivera season with 32 saves in 33 attempts.

And the big-money guys are coming up big.

So much for the Yankees. The Red Sox are New England’s concern, and this team has to think ahead, not back. Asked to sum up the last six days, Francona explained that, while he understood the request, he doesn’t think that way.

“It wasn’t a whole lot of fun,’’ he acknowledged. “But when I start doing that, it’s like a batter who’s 0 for 16 makes an out in his first at-bat, and then slams his helmet. We fight so hard not to let that happen.’’

In case you’re still a bit confused, the translation of that baseball lifer shorthand is that in this game you can’t allow yourself to think in that kind of linear fashion. We - fans and media alike - find it easy and logical to make connections. We think about streaks. Baseball people are trained to live day-by-day, never, as they say, getting too high when things are going well or too low when things get rocky.

Francona stopped thinking about the events of last Tuesday night on Wednesday, other than you don’t want certain mistakes repeated. What he knows is that there was a very good chance for a victory last night, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. He awoke this morning thinking about tonight, not dwelling on tomorrow.

It’s been a horrible six days. The Rays and Yankees have had their fun. Their fans are satisfied for the time being.

Fine. But Aug. 10 is not the end of the season.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of the Globe’s 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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