ANAHEIM, Calif. — For Dustin Pedroia, it was simple.
“Get hits,” he said.
David Ortiz offered an even more bare-bones explanation.
“Hit the damn ball,” noted the designated hitter.
Kevin Youkilis also went down a similar path.
"It’s definitely something where we have to score more runs in order to win," the first baseman said.
If only it was that simple, these players might not be flying back to Boston with a team carrying the unenviable task of coming back from a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-five American League Division Series.
But the predicament the Red Sox find themselves in following their 4-1 Game 2 loss to the Angels on Friday night at Angel Stadium is more complex than anybody in the visitors clubhouse could have hoped. The hitters aren’t hitting, and solutions weren’t readily available (at least by the time the Sox left town).
Only once this season have the Red Sox scored fewer runs over a two-game span as they did in this trip to the West Coast (one run over 18 innings), with that coming when they were shut out in back-to-back games in New York. And as horrific as that may have seemed back in August, it was nothing compared to the fallout of this power outage.
It is of little use to compare the Red Sox offense through two games to the rest of the other seven playoff teams. All you need to know is that it’s the worst of the lot.
After totaling four hits for the second straight game, the Red Sox are now hitting .131 (8-for-61) with four walks. They have a total of just 11 bases. And, as a team, the Sox have one hit in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position. (In comparison, both the Twins and Cardinals have had 22 at-bats apiece with runners in scoring position.)
So, why is this happening?
The Angels pitchers — most notably starters John Lackey and Jered Weaver — have gone in with a game plan and executed it flawlessly. For Lackey, it was an outing filled with more fastballs than usual, and better fastball command than the norm. Weaver? He chose to mix in more soft stuff.
But the most notable similarity that the Red Sox hitters echoed while packing their bags Friday night was that few of the pitches they’ve seen have found the middle of the plate.
“They don’t want to give me [expletive] to drive, and they’ve been pitching like that to pretty much everybody,” Ortiz said. “Back-door [expletive], changeup away, fastball for show. They’ve done a good job. It’s different than they have been in the past. They’re not challenging like they have before.”
Another Red Sox hitter who has noticed the trend of the Angels pitchers hitting the same kind of spot time and time again is Pedroia. The Sox’ No. 2 hitter has almost exclusively seen pitches on the outside portion of the plate, a trend that gained steam throughout the season but truly came to a head in the last few days.
“I’ve got one pitch to hit the whole series and I’ve gotten a hit on it,” said Pedroia, who is 1-for-8, having faced 31 pitches. “Sometimes it’s a credit to them for not giving in and not making mistakes. Every at-bat now is extremely important, they’re pitching on the edge and they’re locating. You tip your hat to them.”
It’s not like the Red Sox aren’t trying to be patient, either. No playoff team has averaged more pitches per plate appearance than the Sox (4.29), or swung at a fewer percentage of first pitches (19 percent). And when they do get to two strikes it has been disastrous, with the team as a whole going 0-for-31 once at a two-strike count (Ortiz is 0-for-5 with four strikeouts).
The Red Sox are simply not getting those pitches they are waiting for, and when they do they aren’t taking advantage.
“I don’t want to take away credit from them. Their starters have done a great job. But I look at my at-bats, and there are pitches I feel like I should have driven and I’m flying out to right field,” Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell said. “They haven’t been perfect. They’ve been very good. I think it’s that combination: They’re doing a good job, but when we’re getting our pitch, we’ve hit a couple balls at people.”
That will have to change if the Red Sox want their season to continue.
Here are four more things we learned on a night the Sox were pushed to the brink of elimination:
THE ROAD WOES CONTINUE
In some ways, it comes as little surprise that the Red Sox were steamrolled by the Angels in Anaheim. After all, the team had been out of sorts on the road for most of the season, particularly against the American League West.
While the Sox enjoyed their third straight 95-win season and their sixth in seven seasons, the team did so almost solely on the strength of its play at home. The Sox went 56-25 at Fenway, a .691 winning percentage that was good for the second-best home mark in the American League, behind only the Yankees. But on the road, the Sox were a sub-.500 team, with a 39-42 mark (.481).
Interestingly, that record was tied for the third-best in the AL, but it was well behind the Angels (48-33) and Yankees (46-35) for the top road record.
The Sox’ regular-season road performances were particularly pronounced against AL West clubs. When visiting the Angels (2-4), A’s (1-2), Mariners (1-2) and Rangers (1-5), the Sox had a 5-13 mark. Against the same clubs at Fenway, the Sox were 8-8.
“It’s never easy coming out here,” Youkilis said. “It’s not easy playing on a different time schedule. I think that’s why, when we come to the West Coast, we’ve struggled a little bit here during the season. In the playoffs we’ve done pretty well, but it’s just one of those things. You get in a comfort zone when you’re in your own city.”
The Sox lineup, of course, is primed to take advantage of the dimensions at Fenway. By and large, the team makes an effort to construct a batting order with right-handed hitters who pull the ball (Youkilis, Jason Bay, Pedroia and Lowell all typically fit this bill) and left-handed hitters who use the whole field (Jacoby Ellsbury and, when they are at their best, J.D. Drew and Ortiz). That would help to explain why nearly all of the Sox’ regulars (save for Victor Martinez) enjoy better numbers at home than on the road, a development that also plays into the team’s home-field advantage.
The Sox hit a remarkable .284 with an .862 OPS at Fenway in 2009, averaging 5.9 runs per game. On the road, they hit .257 with a .753 OPS, pushing just 4.8 runs a game across the plate.
“There’s always a different vibe when the crowd is screaming for you. Does that take away the fact that we still need to execute? No,” said Lowell. “Sometimes a crowd definitely plays a factor. You get those 3-1, 3-2 counts and it puts a little bit of different pressure on the opposing pitcher. We welcome that. Our fans have always supported us tremendously. It’s definitely a different vibe, a positive vibe for us.”
Now, after dropping a pair at Angel Stadium, the Sox are looking forward to their return to Fenway Park. All the same, there is one asterisk that looms over the team’s efforts to get back into the series on their home field: Even if they win two straight in Boston, the Sox still would have to travel back to Southern California and win a game on the road. While the task is not impossible, the club’s overall performance away from Fenway Park suggests that the team has a challenge in front of it if it hopes to emerge from the series.
BECKETT WASN’T HAPPY WITH MUCH
After the Red Sox’ loss to the Angels, Sox starter Josh Beckett was still confused as to the way home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor handled an incident in the seventh inning when Beckett hit Mike Napoli with a curveball the batter seemingly turned into.
After Bucknor awarded the base to Napoli, Beckett immediately yelled into the umpire, saying, “He didn’t move out of the way!” Yet, it was how the ump handled the situation following the hit batsman that frustrated the pitcher.
“I just wanted him to show me some respect,” Beckett said. “He just straight-faced me and walked away. He’d be pissed if I did that to him. Just listen to what I have to say. Don’t just take your mask off and walk away. I know I can’t say anything. I guess they have more power than anybody. It’s a frustrating deal because … I’m not even a person that you’ll respect. I don’t know what I need to do.”
Beckett, who allowed four runs on five hits over 6 2/3 innings — succumbing to a three-run seventh, did, however, want to make it clear that he didn’t have a problem with the calling of balls and strikes by Bucknor, just by the incident following the Napoli hit-by-pitch.
“I thought C.B. did a great job tonight,” Beckett said. “I just didn’t understand [the reaction to the hurler’s complaint].”
As for Beckett’s outing, it appeared to be going smoothly until that seventh. With two outs and pinch-runner Howie Kendrick at second base, Maicer Izturis rifled a single into right-center field to give the Angels the lead for good. After hitting Napoli, Erick Aybar launched a triple over the head of Ellsbury to add two more runs.
“I just made a [expletive) horse-(expletive] pitch to him and I made a horse-[expletive] pitch to Aybar,” Beckett said. “Horrible locations, you get your [butt] kicked.
“If I make the pitch to Itzuris, I don’t have to worry about facing Aybar. This one is mine. It sucks. You’ve got to make one of those two pitches.”
As for that ball launched over Ellsbury, the outfielder said he knew almost automatically he didn’t have a chance.
“He just hit that thing well,” Ellsbury said. “We had him shaded in the left-center field gap and he just ran into it. I got a good jump on it and it just kept on going. I would have loved to have even tried for it, but I couldn’t. That ball was stung.”
LESTER MIGHT BE AROUND THE CORNER
Left-handed pitcher Jon Lester said that he will be available and ready to make a start on three days of rest in Game 4 of the ALDS should the series get to that point.
Prior to Game 2, manager Terry Francona suggested that the team wanted to see how Lester felt one day after throwing 100 pitches in his Game 1 loss before committing to having him throw a side session on Saturday in anticipation of a possible start on Monday (should the Sox win on Sunday to extend the best-of-five series to a fourth game). He also made it clear that, all things being equal, the Sox would like to use Lester in a potential Game 4 so that they can have Beckett on the mound in a potential Game 5.
Just before leaving the Sox clubhouse for the airport to fly back to Boston, Lester said that there was nothing coming off of the start that would prevent the Sox from bringing him back on short rest in Game 4.
“It’s up to [Francona]. I’ll be ready if he needs me to go,” Lester said. “Physically, everything is fine. No problems.”
THE RED SOX AREN’T GIVING UP
The obvious parallel was drawn not too soon after the 2-0 deficit was cemented: Could the Red Sox enact a repeat of their comeback from a 3-1 hole in the 2007 American League Championship Series vs. the Indians, and would they draw upon that experience?
Starting with channeling the same quote uttered by Manny Ramirez on the off day leading into Game 5 of that series, Pedroia doesn’t see why there can’t be a repeat performance.
“We’ll try to do that,” the second baseman said. “It’s not the end of the world, like somebody said. We’re going to come out and play as hard as we can. Everyone in this room, we all fight. We fought through a lot of things this year. We’re definitely not giving up. We’ve got a lot of baseball ahead of us.”
Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon took it from there.
“The fans have seen us go through a lot of these types of series and I’m sure they’re keeping the faith. Everybody in this clubhouse is,” he said. “You don’t expect to be hit in the face like that. These series are like a title fight, they’re 12 rounds, we just got punched in the mouth and we’ve got to go out and do the same.”
Alex Speier contributed to this report