A's dig deeper hole for Red Sox, 5-1

Zito in control in Game 2

Oakland leaves Boston on brink of elimination

October 03, 2003|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. - The Boston Red Sox looked a little tired yesterday, and why not?

They played well into the night on Wednesday and suffered a particularly discouraging, 12-inning loss to the Oakland Athletics in the opening game of the American League Division Series at Network Associates Coliseum, creating the notion that they were suffering from some kind of Game 1 hangover when they went down quietly, 5-1, in Game 2 to reach the sudden-death stage in the best-of-five, first-round playoff.

Manager Grady Little saw it a little differently. He saw 2002 Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito overpower his team for seven innings to send the Red Sox back to Fenway Park on the brink of elimination.

"I saw a left-hander on the mound that created that hangover," Little said.

Maybe so. Zito gave up just five hits and struck out nine on the way to his third victory in four career playoff starts. But the Red Sox didn't look like the same team that rolled up 12 hits and came from behind in the late innings before suffering Wednesday night's strange and draining loss.

The heart of the lineup continued to struggle and cleanup hitter Manny Ramirez continued to come up empty with runners in scoring position. The difference between Wednesday and yesterday, however, was that no one stepped forward to pick up the slack in Game 2.

Second baseman Todd Walker had launched two long home runs in the first game, but his major contribution yesterday was a wild throw that allowed two unearned runs to score in a five-run second inning that accounted for all of the A's offensive production.

Catcher Jason Varitek homered and reached base four times in Game 1, but he was not even in the starting lineup yesterday because backup Doug Mirabelli always catches knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.

The Red Sox would have had every reason to be down after A's catcher Ramon Hernandez caught them napping with a two-out, bases-loaded bunt single to steal a midnight run in the opener, but they don't have one spare minute to feel sorry for themselves now.

"We came out here to Oakland and lost two games," Little said. "We have no choice but to win now."

If they don't, there will be a lot of post-mortem analysis of Little's performance in the first two games. He pulled closer Byung-Hyun Kim off the mound with two outs in the ninth inning in Game 1 and watched left-handed setup man Alan Embree let the A's back in the game.

He also went to scheduled Game 3 starter Derek Lowe in extra innings to try and salvage a performance by pitching ace Pedro Martinez that the Red Sox could not afford to waste.

His decision to schedule Wakefield instead of Lowe in Game 2 had a certain logic, but even that backfired when his control faltered in the second inning and the A's pounced on him to score five times.

Wakefield hit two batters and gave up run-scoring hits to Hernandez and No. 9 hitter Eric Byrnes before Walker bobbled a ground ball and sailed it well over the head of first baseman Kevin Millar for the final two runs of the inning.

Zito wasn't perfect, but he was very good. He struggled to gain control of his curveball in the early innings, then established such great command that he threw it repeatedly to the big hitters in the Red Sox lineup.

"I didn't have the feel right off the bat," Zito said, "but I had to keep throwing it because I knew it was going to be a big pitch for me. You never plan to throw the curveball [that much], but when you've got it going pretty good, it's hard to go away from it."

He allowed a couple of doubles for a run in the top of the third, but settled in to strike out five straight batters at one stretch and ease through seven innings.

"This was a throwback to last year," said A's manager Ken Macha. "This is a guy who in 2001 won Pitcher of the Month in August and September. When he's got it going, he can out you with three pitches. He had the curveball working. When you strike out five of those guys in a row, that means you're really throwing it."

The A's have been up two games before. They came back from New York with a two-game lead in the 2001 Division Series and lost three straight. They also held the lead at some point before losing the 2000 and 2002 Division Series, so they know there still is work to be done.

"It [the lead] doesn't mean anything," said A's general manager Billy Beane.

It means something to the Red Sox. It means they have to wake up in a hurry.

"Everybody needs to stay positive and go out and play," said designated hitter David Ortiz. "We have a great ballclub. I haven't given up yet."

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