Sox can't shake losing feeling

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Sox can't shake losing feeling

The weather was spectacular. The ceremony for the 100th anniversary of the ballpark was glorious.

Then came the game.

Ugh.

"A downer,'' said Bobby Valentine succinctly.

"Tough,'' agreed outfielder Cody Ross. "After such a great celebration, to come out and lose the first one this year against these guys....it's tough.''

And yet, not much different than the Red Sox have shown through the first 13 games.

If the presence of the Yankees, their archrivals, was supposed to lift the Red Sox out of their early-season lethargy, the plan backfired. The Sox seemed flat and overmatched.

Sometimes, they haven't hit. Sometimes they haven't pitched. And Friday, it was a little -- or neither -- of both.

Clay Buchholz became the second Red Sox starter this year to allow five homers in a game, though he had at least had the good sense to give all of them up with the bases empty.

Even that proved too much of an obstacle for a feeble offense which has now scored three runs or fewer in eight of the 13 games played.

After scoring 31 runs in the first three game of the homestand -- all wins -- the Sox have now scored just eight runs in the last four -- all defeats.

That's either the sign of a bad team, or at the very least, one with serious issues.

Buchholz's performance was particularly troublesome. In three starts, he's allowed 18 earned runs, including six homers.

His absence in the second half of last season croaked the Red Sox, particularly in the final month when they got two wins combined from their top two starters, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett.

Valentine preached patient for Buchholz after Friday's implosion, noting that the righthander "is still getting his feet underneath him,'' following his lower back stress fracture last season.

But if Buchholz can't provide quality starts as the bridge between an established front of the rotation and an unproved duo (Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront), the Red Sox are in deep trouble.

Any scenario that had the Sox remaining in contention was built around the notion that their third starter would consistently keep them in games. But in all three of his starts so far, Buchholz has put the Red Sox in an early hole. Only once did his teammates hit enough to overcome the early deficit.

The bottom third of the order is punchless, and with injuries robbing the Sox of two-thirds of their starting outfield, the replacements off the bench aren't contributing.

(Contrast this with the Yankees, whose depth is such that Joe Girardi could give Alex Rodriguez the day off from third base while getting two homers from his fill-in, Eric Chavez).

Without Jacoby Ellsbury to ignite the top of the batting order, Bobby Valentine is left to utilize Mike Aviles, who lacks the on-base ability to hit there with success.

Add it up and the losing streak is at four straight with two more games remaining with Yankees. The homestand that was supposed to energize them has instead resulted in a downward spiral.

"We're going out and we're playing hard,'' said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "It's just not clicking. When it does, it's going to be the same as last year.''

Saltalamacchia was making reference to the team's four-month run that saw them post the best record in the American League from the beginning of May until the end of August.

But on a day after a dispiriting loss, it's as if he's referring to last September when the bottom fell out of the Red Sox' season. For now, this season more closely resembles a continuation of the team's 7-20 fade rather than a fresh start.

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