Nobody in the Boston Red Sox clubhouse wanted to touch the dreaded "P" word last night.
As in, "Do you think the team is pressing now?"
"I'm not going to say anything about moods, attitude, or anything like that," said second baseman Jody Reed. "That's a piece of dynamite. Things are getting taken out of context."
The Red Sox are fast becoming a powder keg entry in the American League East pennant race. With last night's 8-4 loss to the Orioles at Memorial Stadium, they relinquished their grip on first place, a grip they had held for 50 days. It was Boston's sixth loss in the last seven games, eighth in the last 10, 12th in the last 17.
As bad as those numbers are, the Red Sox's slump actually was exacerbated two nights ago. In the wake of a 4-1 loss to the Orioles, veteran catcher Tony Pena slammed a folding chair against a wall in the locker room in full view of the assembled media. His theatrics were viewed as a thinly disguised attempt to fire up the team. When he used the word "quitters" in his tirade, however, Pena unwittingly may have torched the team instead.
The Red Sox didn't play inspired baseball last night, they played ghastly baseball. There were grievous mistakes in the field, on the basepaths and on the pitching rubber. To wit:
* In the fifth inning, Red Sox starter Greg Harris walked Cal Ripken with a runner on second to get at designated hitter Sam Horn. He threw three breaking balls to go ahead in the count, 1-2, then left a fastball out over the plate. Horn drove it 312 feet to right for a three-run homer and a 5-2 Orioles lead. Harris was almost inconsolable afterward.
"I was just a stupid idiot to let Sam Horn beat me in a situation this important," he said.
"For Sam Horn to beat me, that's not acceptable. I can't live with that right now. I pitched around Cal so he can't beat me . . . One bad pitch to Sam Horn . . . I gave him a pitch he could drive. That cost us the game. It's something that shouldn't have happened. I'm taking total blame for this."
* In the sixth, a poor decision by Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs opened the door for two more runs and a 7-3 Orioles lead. Chris Hoiles doubled to start the inning. Then Bill Ripken dropped a sacrifice bunt toward third. Boggs tried to catch Hoiles at third with a throw to Reed, who had just moved to shortstop and was covering on the play. Boggs' throw sailed between Reed and Hoiles and into leftfield, allowing Hoiles to score.
"We gave them a run on the play at third," manager Joe Morgan said. "We just didn't play very well tonight."
* In the eighth, the Red Sox bungled their last chance to get back in the game. Mike Greenwell led off with a pop-fly double to left. The next batter, Dwight Evans, hit a sharp grounder between short and third and Greenwell inexplicably tried to advance. Ripken backhanded the ball in the hole and easily threw out Greenwell at third.
"I made a mistake," Greenwell said. "I thought it was through and I took off. It was a stupid mistake, it's as simple as that."
Morgan: "He made a bad blunder, which we're famous for. We do not run well. Our instincts are very poor. [But] there's not much you can do about that."
Greenwell reportedly was one of the players upset by Pena's actions and words the night before, enough so that he expected an apology. Asked last night if he had pressed the issue, Greenwell said, "I let it lie."
These are clearly nervous times for the Red Sox, who now trail streaking Toronto by a game with 12 to play. After an off day today, the Red Sox open a three-day series against the last-place Yankees tomorrow in New York.
"You've got to worry," Greenwell said. "We're in second place now. What it's going to take [to snap out of the slump]? I don't think anyone can answer."
A 6 1/2 -game lead in the East dissolved over 16 days, leaving the Red Sox expecting the worse.
"It's one [bad break] after another in the wrong situations," Harris said. "Something goes backward and we pay for it. Still, playing as bad as we've been playing for two weeks, we're only a game out."
True, but the fuse is burning.