BOSTON -- When the Red Sox traded away $262 million in salaries last August and were preparing to press the reset button, a fantasy scenario that occurred to more than one observer (present company included) was that the Red Sox could somehow pry left-hander Cliff Lee from the Philadelphia Phillies.
Yes, he was owed $75 million over three seasons, beginning with this one, but for a team intent on rebuilding its starting rotation, Lee seemed a perfect fit.
Alas, the Phillies wanted no part of it -- the Red Sox asked at some level, trust us, if only to do due diligence. With aces at a premium, the Sox went a lesser route, signing an erstwhile ace, Ryan Dempster, to a two-year deal for about half the annual salary it would have cost for Lee.
Wednesday night at Fenway Park, Lee and Dempster dueled each other. Dempster pitched well enough to win on most nights, allowing just a couple of runs on six hits through seven innings, a vast improvement over his previous three starts. Michael Young homered in the first and two ground-ball singles sandwiched around a sacrifice produced another Phillies run in the seventh.
Lee, however, was a vision of virtuosity. Jacoby Ellsbury singled, stole second and scored on Dustin Pedroia’s single with one out in the first, but after that Lee retired 23 of the last 25 batters he faced. He allowed a ground-ball single to Daniel Nava in the fifth and a two-out infield single to Jose Iglesias in the eighth. Nava, who was advanced on a bunt, was the only Sox batter to reach as far as second base other than Ellsbury.
Lee did not walk a batter, struck out eight and threw only 95 pitches. But after Domonic Brown hit his 11th home run of the season, and second in two nights, off Junichi Tazawa in the top of the ninth, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel added some drama by summoning Jonathan Papelbon to finish off the Sox.
The boos began as soon as the bullpen door opened, grew in volume as he trotted in to the mound and reached a crescendo when PA announcer Henry Mahegan intoned his name. So much for, thanks for the memories, Pap.
That was of little consequence to Papelbon. Leaning forward with his hallmark piercing stare, hat drawn low over his eyes, Papelbon struck out Jonny Gomes, retired Pedroia on a ground ball to third, then retired David Ortiz on a ground ball to shortstop Jimmy Rollins. He pumped his fist in celebration of his 10th save in 10 chances and extended to 18 2/3 innings his streak of scoreless innings.
The loss ended Boston’s four-game winning streak, and was only their fourth loss in the last 14 games.