BOSTON -- And all this time, you thought the All-Star intermission was designed to give the players a break. Who knew that, at least in the case of the Boston Red Sox, the fans would need the respite as badly as the players they're watching?
Where shall we start?
A little historical perspective?
The Red Sox haven't had a first half this bad since the 1997 team went 38-48 and occupied last place. Ben Cherington was a Sox intern instead of general manager, Bobby Valentine was managing the Mets, Larry Lucchino was with the Padres, paying for Theo Epstein to go to law school, and John W. Henry was a limited partner with the Yankees. Even the miserable 2001 bunch finished the first half with one more win than loss, and manager Jimy Williams was fired six weeks later.
The cold, hard facts?
The Sox are a .500 team, a last-place team, a team 9½ games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East after a 7-3 loss Sunday night, giving the Yankees three wins in four games this weekend. This time, not even three more hits from Caramba! Ciriaco could save them.
"I'm not a grader," Valentine said when asked how he would rate the team's performance. "I always think it's incomplete until the end of the year, anyway."
After being cuffed around for five runs (four earned) and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings, purported staff ace Jon Lester limps into the break with a 5-6 win-loss record, a winner of just two games in 10 Fenway starts. A strong case can be made, using advanced metrics like fielding independent ERA and batting average of balls in play, that Lester has pitched better than his record. But that was not the case Sunday night, when Mark Teixeira's two-run double over the glove of third baseman Mauro Gomez put him in a hole from which he could not climb out.
"Another uphill battle, you know," Valentine said. "Before you know it, you look up, and there are a lot of hits on the board and runs and baserunners and 100 pitches in the fifth inning. That's not what he wanted, I'm sure."
In games started by Lester and the other rotation mainstay, Josh Beckett, the team has won 12 games and lost 20.
"No," Valentine said. "Duplicating that, no. But I don't think it will be duplicated."
David Ortiz reached base 13 times in four games this weekend, and scored exactly twice.
"What can I tell you?" Ortiz said. "We played the Yankees, the best team in baseball right now. On the other hand, come from a bad road trip, lot of guys injured, we tried."
Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who really does need a break, struck out in seven consecutive at-bats over two games this weekend, and 10 out of 12 times over the three games in which he played.
The sidelights that really make you wonder if this season is a lost cause?
The Sox wound up with Nick Punto batting cleanup when Adrian Gonzalez, who prides himself on being an ironman, left after two innings due to illness. Gonzalez looked like a mess when he informed first bench coach Tim Bogar, then Valentine, how badly he was feeling. His eyes were red and running, and he told them that when he coughed, he felt dizzy.
"He's been on medication for a while," Valentine said.
"He's been there every day. It took me by total surprise. If he's going to say anything, it must be something to notice. I saw he and Bogie talking about it, then I didn't hear anything about it. All of a sudden, he told me."
Which begs the question, of course: Should any manager be taken by surprise that his cleanup hitter was about to come out of a game? It appears Valentine wasn't aware how badly Gonzalez was feeling, or that he was taking medication, which would suggest a breakdown in the pipeline, somewhere.
The Sox lost on a night that Derek Jeter dropped a popup, an occurrence so inconceivable the Mayans may indeed be right.
"Anyone is catchable," Valentine said bravely before the game, when asked about the Yankees' big lead.
Really? Usain Bolt isn't, and neither, perhaps, are the 2012 Yankees. Not with this big a head start.
Playoffs? Well, sure, the Sox are one of eight teams in the AL within 2½ games of a wild-card spot, even with 20 players being on the DL and a total of 945 games missed due to DL time. But while Jacoby Ellsbury is on the horizon, Dustin Pedroia is out indefinitely, Kevin Youkilis is gone, Daniel Bard is a mess, Andrew Bailey is a rumor, and Carl Crawford is just a step ahead of the surgeon's scalpel.
And so we come to the All-Star break. Does your head hurt yet?
"Hopefully we can get some of the guys back and have a better performance in the second half," said Ortiz, who is headed to Kansas City as the team's only All-Star representative. "All our thunder was out, and we're still in the fight. Have all those guys in, you know, it will be a different story.
"Nobody expected the situation we're in now, all the injuries, and one comes in, another goes out, hard to play, hard to compete like that. I think our fans are fine. They understand what our situation is, how many injuries. If you look at the team that broke camp, and the team that's played the past two months, it's a totally different team. It's hard to compete like that."
Ortiz may be overestimating how tolerant the fans are these days, judging by the tenor of conversations on the radio, chat boards and Twitter. With the Yankees closing in on Sunday night's victory, a tweeter who goes by the handle "emptyideas" expressed a sentiment that was anything but understanding.
His message: "Blow. It. Up."