ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Guess it's probably too late to reschedule next Wednesday's salute at the Fens to the 2004 World Series champs, no?
On the other hand, Red Sox fans haven't had much of a chance lately to cheer a winner, so they might enjoy becoming reacquainted with the feeling.
By the time you read this, 206 days will have passed since the Sox celebrated their third World Series title in a 10-year span. Doesn't quite seem like yesterday, does it, not with the Sox sliding into last place Friday night, percentage points behind Tampa Bay, after their eighth straight loss, a 1-0 walk-off defeat to the Rays.
The Sox have scored a total of 16 runs during this losing streak, longest since the Bobby Valentine era ended with him falling off his bike. They have led once in the 72 innings spanning their eight defeats. Sox pitcher John Lackey did everything but pull Rays hitters into a steel cage with him Friday night, seven-plus innings of staring holes through Tampa Bay bats, and it wasn't enough.
Not on a night when the Sox never got to within hailing distance of third base. Not on a night when another late-inning bunt failed. Not on a night when the Sox guessed right with a pitchout in the bottom of the ninth and Desmond Jennings still stole second, setting up the winning run.
And not a night when Rays manager Joe Maddon, whose team has been dealing with some hard times of its own, elected to pinch hit for Sean Rodriguez, who had hit a walk-off home run the day before, with one Cole Figueroa, who was just called up from the minors eight days earlier and whose previous claim to a big-league pedigree was as godson to Luis Alicea, the former Sox infielder and coach.
Back in Boston, they install pillories on the Common for managers who make those kinds of fate-defying decisions. The Sox dugout was more than happy to match up righty Burke Badenhop, whom they'd summoned to face the right-handed hitting Rodriguez, against a lefty-hitting career minor leaguer. Instead, Figueroa, playing in only his fourth big-league game, flared a ball into some vacant acreage in right-center field, easily scoring Jennings.
The Rays danced in the outfield, which is where Figueroa led his teammates on a merry chase. The Sox were left with folks picking at the scab of another rough loss, which on the official ledger was charged to reliever Andrew Miller, whose one misstep was to miss wide on a full-count pitch to Jennings with one out in the ninth after squelching a Rays rustling in the eighth.
Miller, incredibly, was charged with his third walk-off loss in a span of 10 days, having endured sudden death twice last week in Minnesota. The win, meanwhile, went to one Juan Carlos Oviedo, who had gone so long between wins -- two years and nearly 10 months -- he was known by a different name, Leo Nunez, for his last one.
And the defeat, as deflating as they come, wasn't even the worst part of the night. Shane Victorino strained his right hamstring again in the ninth inning, and while manager John Farrell expressed the hope that the injury wasn't as bad as the one that made Victorino a ghost for the first three weeks of the season, his track record suggests that he may be limping back onto the disabled list.
"Preliminary, it doesn't appear as severe as spring training," Farrell said. "We'll get a better read tomorrow."
Most of the postmortems Friday night revolved around Boston's failed bunt in the ninth, and the failed pitchout in the bottom of the inning. The bunt was called after A.J. Pierzynski opened the ninth with a single off Oviedo. Victorino got the bunt down, to the left of the mound, but a charging third baseman Evan Longoria was able to throw out Pierzynski before he even appeared in the frame on your TV.
Farrell said he didn't want to run for Pierzynski there, because he was anticipating he might need to use Jonathan Herrera in another situation. The Penn Relays, perhaps? Reporters, present company included, did not press him on the matter.
Pierzynski, meanwhile, sounded bemused about being quizzed on the play -- why, for example, he didn't slide into second base.
"We know Longo is very aggressive," Pierzynski said. "[Victorino] made a good bunt, but it wasn't perfect. Unfortunately, I'm not blessed with a lot of speed. I did the best I could. I had a good jump, secondary lead, but unfortunately it didn't work out.
"I tried to get there as fast as I could. At the end of the day, I'm out if I slide or not. I was trying to get there as fast as I could."
The pitchout? Pierzynski said he hadn't looked at the play after the game, and when he does, he might discover it wasn't quite as clockwork as he thought it was. Badenhop said he thought his pitch might have sailed a bit on the Sox catcher.
"I thought we had a decent shot," Badenhop said. "I watched it again, and even if I hit [Pierzynski] in the chest, and he makes a perfect throw, it's probably bang-bang."
Instead, it was bang-bang, the Sox were near dead. Jennings got to second easily.
"It was right over the bag, chest-high," Pierzynski said of his throw, which pulled shortstop Xander Bogaerts toward first base. "If I put it on the bag, he's still safe. He's just fast. What can you do? Everything worked, he just beat it. What else can you say?"
The scrutiny grows exponentially, of course, during a long losing streak. Even the tiniest mistakes are saddled with more weight than they should be asked to bear. More so when it's the defending World Series champions.
Among other things, Badenhop bemoaned that the hit he gave up to Figueroa pinned another excruciating defeat on Miller, his best friend in baseball. And wouldn't you know, the outfield was swung around toward left against Figueroa, who was looking for a pitch to run inside and got enough of it to deliver his winning hit. Had they been playing straight up, Badenhop said Grady Sizemore told him, they might have had a play. But those are the things that seem to conspire against you when you're losing.
"A game like that," Badenhop said, "you can only walk the tightrope so long."