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Bob Ryan

Wake-up call not answered

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / April 19, 2010

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You want the good news or the bad news?

Sorry. There is no good news. Yesterday was another sorry affair at Fenway Park for the Red Sox, the only difference being this one was in the daylight.

The Sox haven’t been able to defeat the Rays in the evening and they haven’t been able to beat them in the afternoon. Perhaps playing them in the late morning today will change their luck.

“We can show up at 6 in the morning or midnight,’’ fussed manager Terry Francona. “We’d rather play with a lead.’’

It’s Patriots Day, and already they’re five games out. There’s some run prevention going on, all right, but it’s the wrong kind, as yesterday’s 7-1 loss to the Rays showed.

“Obviously, no one’s happy,’’ said Jon Lester, the losing pitcher. “This isn’t the way we envisioned starting the season.’’

This isn’t the way anyone envisioned starting this season. You know things are bad when the ballpark is half-empty by “Sweet Caroline’’ time. Folks had sat through the damp and the chill long enough. There couldn’t have been more than 10,000 people present to see the Sox spoil the shutout with a meaningless run off reliever Mike Ekstrom in the ninth.

Lester’s well-documented April woes continued. Carlos Pena and B.J. Upton each hit home runs onto the roof of the center field camera. Lester walked the No. 9 man and the leadoff hitter to set the table for two runs in the third. Both he and Francona insisted he had the proverbial “good stuff,’’ but he made fundamental mistakes, and it’s clear the Rays have regained that ’08 groove. Make mistakes, and you will pay.

To borrow a football phrase, the Sox had trouble in all three phases of the game. The pitching wasn’t good enough. The batters did next to nothing with Tampa Bay starter Matt Garza, who gave up just four scattered hits while shutting them out through eight innings and facing the minimum 21 men through seven. And the defense once again was less than satisfactory.

Mike Cameron had another tough outing in center, this time failing to track a blow off the bat of Evan Longoria that went for a leadoff double in the second. Cameron took a tentative step forward, and next thing you know the ball was sailing over his head. One pitch later it was 2-0 when Pena launched his fifth career homer off Lester on a ball that went in the same general direction as Longoria’s — only farther.

The skipper went to Cameron’s partial defense. “The ball carried farther than he thought,’’ Francona said. “I’d like to see it again. The wind was carrying every which way. But in his defense, I don’t think that’s the freshest he’s ever felt.’’ Cameron did just get through passing a kidney stone. We probably should cut him significant slack.

Lester himself messed up a bunt in the sixth. Throw in some double plays that mighta/coulda but, in the end, weren’t turned (not counting one on Carl Crawford, whom nobody doubles up) and it was another tough day all-around for the Big D, whose grade through the first dozen games barely merits a Gentleman’s C.

Stolen bases? Of course. The Rays swiped three, two coming on a Crawford/Ben Zobrist no-throw double steal. None of the stolen bases led to a run, but they were galling and humiliating, regardless.

Garza is composing a nice little career résumé against the Sox. The 26-year-old righthander is 6-2 lifetime vs. Boston in the regular season, and don’t forget the pair of Ws, including a Game 7, in the ’08 ALCS. Spotting him two runs was suicidal, let alone seven.

“His stuff was tremendous,’’ lauded Francona. “He didn’t pitch in the stretch much, but when he did, he stayed down in the zone.’’

Specifically, he twice induced immediate double play grounders in the wake of base hits. Combine those with left fielder Crawford throwing out Adrian Beltre going for two when he broke up Garza’s no-no bid with a shot to left in the fifth, and that’s how you face 21 men in seven innings.

By the way, you can’t blame David Ortiz for this one. Victor Martinez had caught 12 innings the night before, but Francona wanted his bat in the lineup. That meant Jason Varitek caught and Martinez was the DH. Papi was just another suffering spectator.

The Rays are scary good. You might question their setup people, but Rafael Soriano is off to a good start as their closer and they’ve got some great arms in the rotation with people such as James Shields, David Price, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, and, of course, Garza. Longoria, Pena, and Zobrist are all big-time, and Upton still oozes superstar potential. The manager, Joe Maddon, is a lovable mad scientist who loves teasing Boston’s lefty power with his shifts.

And while all this was going on, the Yankees were cruising home over the Rangers with Derek Jeter getting a day off and his replacement, Ramiro Pena, driving in a pair of runs. The Yankees may be on their way to 105 wins.

They all can’t go to the postseason. Somebody’s going home Oct. 3, and if they continue to play like this that somebody will be the Boston Red Sox.

“We’re not doing a lot of things correctly right now,’’ Francona said. “Every day it seems to be something different. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us. We’ve dug ourselves into a hole, and we’ll have to dig ourselves out.’’

Actually, there is some good news. When you start at 11 a.m., another loss doesn’t necessarily spoil a fan’s whole day.

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

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