It was an absolutely brutal night for the Red Sox on Friday night.
First they ran into a buzzsaw in Erik Bedard of the Baltimore Orioles. He was sensational for seven innings, allowing just two hits and no runs and taking a 1-0 lead into the eighth. Bedard is rapidly becoming one of the best lefties in the game. But the Red Sox got two men on with two out, and Wily Mo Pena up. Most of my friends and I sighed, resigned to see the inning end without the Sox scoring. But Wily Mo shocked the world by singling to center to tie the game. It led to a five-run inning, and with the Yankees winning in Cleveland, I thought to myself, "The lead's back to six games."
The best bullpen in baseball couldn't possibly lose a four-run lead to the mediocre Orioles. Or could it?
Eric Gagne was positively awful. He gave up a resounding double to Corey Patterson that he banged off the wall on the first pitch. Then it turned into batting practice, as Gagne gave up a single, a walk, a bouncer that he nearly botched but threw Kevin Millar out at first. He then gave up a hit that drove in two, and J.D. Drew botched it to allow the tying run to get to second. (I found it interesting that Terry Francona brought in Gagne, instead of Hideki Okajima, to start the eighth, as Patterson and Nick Markakis, as well as the inning's fourth hitter, Aubrey Huff, were all left-handed.)
That ended Gagne's night. Hideki Okajima came in and promptly gave up a single that tied the game. In the ninth, he gave up a double to Brian Roberts, who moved to third on a sacrifice, and scored on Nick Markakis' sacrifice fly to center.
A certain victory turned into an absolutely inexcusable loss. Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched seven strong innings, allowing just one run. He gets another no-decision for his trouble.
One of my friends voiced out loud what I would bet a few Red Sox fans are considering right now: did the Red Sox trade for damaged goods in Eric Gagne? He has appeared four times in a Red Sox uniform, and sure as hell has not looked like the dominant reliever they thought they were getting. He has not pitched a 1-2-3 inning yet, and has allowed runs in three of the four games. Teams have been feasting on his fastball. His season got off to a slow start in Texas this year, as he spent some of April on the DL. He looked terrific in June and July, but he looks awfully rusty right now. I hope he's not hiding an injured shoulder or elbow, which caused him all that trouble since 2004.
I also wonder if he's one of these guys who can't handle a "large" lead of four runs. I've seen too many times pitchers who come in with those kind of leads and get hit hard. (Would it have been better if the Red Sox had just been up 2-1 instead of 5-1?) I don't know if their minds wander or what. Gagne better get his stuff together or he'll find himself pitching in garbage time. (Okajima deserves some of the blame for the loss tonight, but he's build up enough good will with Red Sox fans not to worry. Gagne hasn't.)
A six-game lead has once again become a five-game lead. A bad night was made all the worse by the Tigers, Indians and Mariners all losing too (so you-know-who gained ground on everyone). Even the Mets lost one in the ninth inning at Shea. This was an absolutely brutal defeat, and it almost made me wish that if the Red Sox were destined to lose this game, losing 1-0 to a superb pitcher like Erik Bedard is nothing to hang your head in shame over. (So would it have been better in the end if Wily Mo had struck out?) The Red Sox better come out swinging the next few days and win this series. An uptight fan base is getting more concerned, and they don't want to look back after the season at August 10 as a bad turning point to an otherwise terrific season.