By Sean McAdam
CLEVELAND -- They have become baseball's walking, talking version of Murphy's Law: if something can go wrong, the 2011 Red Sox will make sure to find a way to make it happen.
They've been outpitched at times, outhit at others, and lost another game on a freaky lapse of fundamentals.
On Thursday, though, they may have topped themselves, losing their sixth straight after walking the No. 9 hitter, watching him score on a perfectly executed suicide squeeze, then, for good measure, making the final out of the game when their pinch-runner took too wide a turn at second and was caught trying to slide back into the bag.
It's been a futile week on the road, and ordinarily, the Red Sox would be eager to get back home. But they also sense that Fenway might not be the most hospitable place for them.
A fan base delighted by the events of the offseason has been just as demoralized by the first week of the season, the worst start since 1945. So even as they packed their bags in the visitor's clubhouse Thursday, the Red Sox went on damage control and essentially pleaded for patience and support.
It's as though the Red Sox are throwing themselves at the mercy of the court . . . of public opinion.
"We've got to get back at home, man, and get those fans into it," said Dustin Pedroia, "get everybody fired up. We need those fans more than ever right now... We need them, we need someone on our side. Carl Crawford and Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew, they were getting yelled at the whole time.
"It'd be good to have someone cheering for us for a change. I hope. You're either two feet in now or two feet out -- let us know. Because we're coming."
Ready or not.
The week-long debacle that was the first road trip of the season is mercifully over. The Sox hit a woeful .181 and slugged .275. Their staff ERA is 7.12 and it wasn't until Thursday that they got so much as a quality start from their rotation -- on the sixth try.
Just when it seemed that Jon Lester might do exactly what his manager had forecast ("Let the big boy get on a roll and put us on his shoulders,'' said Terry Francona Wednesday night), the team imploded over the last inning.
It started with a walk from Daniel Bard to weak-hitting Adam Everett in the bottom of the inning, continued with a poor throw into center from Jarrod Saltalamacchia on a stolen-base attempt, and culminated in pinch-runner Darnell McDonald being caught too far off the bag in the top of the ninth for the game's final out.
"I was trying to be a little aggressive," said a subdued McDonald, "anticipating them making a throw. I lost my footing after rounding second out there and really got caught in no-man's land.
"I was trying to make something happen and it didn't work out."
That might aptly sum up the state of the Red Sox after a week. No matter what, it hasn't worked out, and the sight of McDonald having fallen and trying in vain to scramble back to his feet was a suitable metaphor for the first six games.
It's not, of course, about to get any easier, even though the next 10 games are at home, where the Sox traditionally play better and hit more.
"The slate's not really clean," said Francona. "The record's what it is. I don't want us to have a hangover. We need to pick it up. We're going to be playing a good team now (the Yankees are the Sox' Opening Day opponent) and we've not done a very good job to this point."
DBard, who invited trouble by walking Everett to begin the bottom of the eighth ("Can't do that, especially to the nine-hole guy"), hopes the mob will not be an angry one.
"I think most Red Sox fans are smart enough to know, as cliched as it is, it's a long season," Bard said. "If they give up on us right now after six games, then they've got more problems than we do. And I don't think that's the case. I think they'll stick behind us."
Ultimately, it's not up to the fans and their response. It's up to the Red Sox, who have gotten themselves into this mess and now, need to get themselves out of it.
"We'll figure it out -- we have to,'' vowed Pedroia. "We don't want to let anybody down."