Red Sox find hits hard to come by

BOSTON -- Wanna feel a little worse?

Our records go back to just 1919, but in that time, the New York Yankees have never played three games in a row in which they managed three or fewer hits.

It has never happened to Carl Crawford's old team, the Tampa Bay Rays, whose pitchers in the span of 27 ½ hours held the Sox to just such a pittance -- three hits in a 4-0 loss Wednesday afternoon, which followed three hits in a 6-2 loss Tuesday night and three hits in a 3-1 win Tuesday afternoon.

Orioles and Jays? Nope. Seattle Mariners, the league's worst offense? Never. The San Diego Padres, Adrian Gonzalez's old team? Well, yes, just once, and that was 31 years ago.

This is the fourth time in Sox history and first time in Fenway Park that the Sox have been held to three or fewer hits in three straight games. Should it provide comfort to Thursday's starter, Josh Beckett, to know that only two teams, the 2010 Washington Nationals and 2003 Detroit Tigers, have ever had four straight games of such offensive ineptitude? Hey, you take solace wherever you can find it.

But if the Red Sox thought this brief stop home would bring relief in the midst of a two-week trip that still has eight games left in eight days in Kansas City and Texas, they were sadly mistaken.

"That's outrageous, man," Rays manager Joe Maddon told reporters afterward. "That's really good stuff."

Maddon was talking about his own pitchers, of course, left-hander David Price on Wednesday, right-handers Jeff Niemann and James Shields the day before. They combined to hold the Sox to a two-day average of .105 (9-for-86) in a place where they've batted .299 this season. The Rays would have swept the Sox if not for one well-timed swing by Jacoby Ellsbury, whose three-run home run off Shields gave the Sox a win in the series opener.

"Definitely a tough time now," said Carl Crawford, who struck out five times in three games, did not get the ball out of the infield in nine at-bats and is back in a 4-for-31 (.129) funk just when it appeared he planned to show up after all, following a nine-hit weekend against the Yankees.

"We've just got to try and weather the storm right now," Crawford said. "Hopefully, we can all pick each other up."

The use of "we" sounds odd coming from a man whose teammates have picked him up all season and are still waiting for him to reciprocate.

"He is so lucky," one big league scout said here Wednesday. "Can you imagine if he was 'the guy' and the team was slumping? But they don't even boo him.

"He hasn't looked right to me since spring training, when he was swinging at everything. It's almost like he's afraid to get two strikes on him. I honestly think there's something physical going on. The bat speed just isn't there, he's reaching for everything and now it's probably gotten into his head."

Asked point-blank Wednesday whether he had physical issues, Crawford said no.

There is little doubt the Sox could use a pick-me-up from somebody at a time when David Ortiz is sporting a walking boot to alleviate the pain generated by the bursitis in his right heel, Kevin Youkilis and Marco Scutaro are dealing with sore backs (Youkilis is clearly laboring), and Adrian Gonzalez has neck stiffness that he refuses to use as an excuse for his power outage (one home run, seven doubles in 131 at-bats since the All-Star break), even though Terry Francona admits it's probably a factor.

"We're beat up," Francona said. "We've got guys who have backs that are acting up, flared up. We went through a three-game stretch in about 24 hours where we didn't do much offensively, but those things change."

And when the team isn't hitting, every other flaw is cast out of proportion, every error attracting more scrutiny than it would otherwise receive.

Third baseman Jed Lowrie started a triple play Tuesday night, but he also made a throwing error to the plate and was part of a botched double steal that allowed Ben Zobrist to score from third.

On Wednesday afternoon, right fielder Darnell McDonald was charged with an error on a ball that took a sharp detour upon landing, allowing Johnny Damon to advance to second. Damon eventually came around to score an unearned run on a wild pitch and ground out, putting starter John Lackey back on his heels from the outset.

It was the eighth straight game in which the other team scored first, and in six of those games, the runs have come in the first inning.

And when the Sox are not hitting, playing from behind only aggravates the situation.

"Everybody in this ballclub is a big part of the union, you know?" said Ortiz, who hopes to be back at some point during the Texas series but admits there's pain any time he runs.
"Whenever anybody gets out of the lineup, you feel that. I'm not going to tell you that we're not hitting because I'm not playing, but I'm part of that group and a big part of getting things going."

Ortiz hit .500 with three home runs on the road last week, but even then, the Sox scored four runs or fewer in taking two of three from the Minnesota Twins before losing two of three to the Seattle Mariners. The Sox have lost four out of five and five of their past seven, which is why they head to Kansas City looking up at the Yankees in the AL East standings.

The good news is that time is running out on Boston's pursuers in the wild-card race. The Rays are still eight games behind with just 40 games to go. If Boston plays just .500 ball the rest of the way, it will finish with 94 wins, and the Rays would have to go 28-12 just to tie.

Having that kind of cushion should allow the Sox to give their mainstays time to heal, although it was a bit unnerving to see closer Jonathan Papelbon walk through the clubhouse with a giant ice pack on his back, too.

"My back's sore," he said. "It's just tired. I'm just trying to ice it, spike it back up."

No need to fret?

"I'm still as strong as [expletive]," he said. "Let me tell you something. When you have a bullwhip and you crack it and it makes that cracking sound, you know what that is? You're breaking the speed of sound. And when you can crack the bullwhip as a pitcher, you're going to do some good things."

Put some bullwhip back in their bats, and the Sox should be OK again.

"Three runs scored in the last couple games is not going to get it done," Dustin Pedroia said, "so we've got to figure that out ourselves."

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.