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Dan Shaughnessy

Finding relief with the heat on

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / August 11, 2009

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This is Boston baseball summer, which means fear, loathing, and good old Sicilian Agita.

It’s a million degrees outside and nobody feels like working and our best form of recreation is kicking back, watching the Red Sox at night . . . and worrying.

It’s been said that man’s greatest failures involve regrets of the past, and fear of the future; which is what rooting for the Red Sox is all about.

The Olde Towne Team came back home last night, considerably diminished. The Sox were in the middle of one of those free falls that marked the final three decades of the last century. They had gone on the road and lost six consecutive games to rivals Tampa Bay and New York. They were feeding the collective angst of the Nation and Boston hardball pilgrims trudged to Fenway Park to see if this was going to be another colossal fold or perhaps the beginning of a surge by the Local Nine.

The Sox blew a 4-0 lead (Detroit tied it at 5 in the seventh), but recovered to beat the Tigers, 6-5, snapping a season-worst, six-game losing streak.

“We just went through a couple of games and [expletive],’’ said Dustin Pedroia (two-run homer in the first). “We can’t say, ‘Oh no, we’re gonna lose!’ . . . We’re baseball players. We’ve been through tough times before. You have to win here. We know that.’’

After going 31 innings without scoring a run in New York, Terry Francona’s lineup erupted for four runs and eight hits in the first two innings against Tigers All-Star righthander Edwin Jackson. It looked like it was going to be an easy night, but nothing comes easily in this sweaty August of 2009. Not even back home at Fenway. Jonathan Papelbon had to come on in the eighth with runners on second and third and two out. Papelbon got Curtis Granderson to pop up, then had a 1-2-3 ninth.

The charms of home?

Not necessarily.

“I felt good about coming home,’’ said Francona, who knows the New England mind better than any manager since Walpole Joe Morgan. “Then I got to a red light with my window down.’’

That’s classic stuff from a Sox skipper. We all can imagine Tito in his SUV, rolling to a stop at the corner of Boylston and Yawkey Way, getting marked by a posse of Sox fans, and hearing complaints about staying too long with Daniel Bard in the eighth in Yankee Stadium Sunday night.

It is the beauty and the curse of those who sit in the corner office at Fenway: Everyone thinks he or she knows more about your team than you. It is what keeps New England going in these dog days of baseball summer.

It’s certainly been a rough seven days for the Sox. And you don’t even know the half of it. After Sunday night’s stunning loss in New York - the nationally televised debacle that reinforced the themes of the Yankees-on-the-rise vs. the Sox-on-the decline - the Sox’ charter aircraft bounced for 41 minutes in the airspace between Newark and Logan.

“Second-worst flight I’ve ever been on,’’ said Francona. “The only one to top it was when I flew from Dallas to College Station, Texas, and everybody on our team was throwing up.’’ The humanity.

Maybe there was some justice in the vomit comment. Six games in Tampa and New York had a lot of Sox fans reaching for medication. It was a stunning development for a team that looked like a playoff lock in the first four months of the season.

Now we wonder. Boston’s once-deep starting staff has dissolved to a point where the Sox tonight will be forced to start the immortal Junichi Tazawa, a 23-year-old Japanese righty who at this time last year was pitching for Nippon Oil of the Japanese Industrial League.

Where is Bobby Sprowl when you need him?

Meanwhile, the Sox lineup is evolving in front of our eyes.

Last night Francona had Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek on the pine against Jackson. This would have been unthinkable two years ago. Lowell was MVP of the 2007 World Series. Varitek is the Sox captain, one of the last holdovers from the magical 2004 season. Last night they were healthy scratches.

And then there is David Ortiz. Big Papi was 1 for 25 coming into the game, down to .219 on the season. He was benched Sunday night in New York. Get used to it, fellas. Big name, big-money veterans are going to sit some nights.

The Sox came into the game with six straight losses, which hadn’t been done since 2006, the only team of the Theo regime which did not make the playoffs. The last Boston team to lose more than six in a row was Joe Kerrigan’s 2001 “F-Troop,’’ featuring nutbag Carl Everett wrestling teammates on the clubhouse carpet.

So you just witnessed the (tied for) second-worst Red Sox losing streak of the century.

But now the sorry streak is over. The Sox have won one in a row and are alone atop the wild-card standings. Life is good again.

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

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