Early outburst, late rally not enough

Early outburst, late rally not enough

CHICAGO -- Unlike the debacle of an opener the day before, the Red Sox were in Saturday's contest at Wrigley Field for the entirety. Right down to the very last pitch, when Trot Nixon didn't get the offering he was looking for from Ryan Dempster and popped to third with the tying run on second base.

These are frustrating times for the Red Sox, who fell to 1-4 on this Interleague road trip by suffering a 7-6 loss to the Cubs in a game they once led, 4-0.

But clearly, the Sox don't need to be reminded of their frustration. The mention of it from a radio journalist set off Nixon in the aftermath of this defeat.

"When you lose, it's not very fun, is it?" Nixon said. "These sarcastic questions, for crying out loud, it's not fun, no. I don't [care] what we did last year. You lose ballgames, it's not fun."

In other words, it's been all but impossible for the Sox to enjoy much of anything on a road trip that has one game left -- Sunday night at Wrigley Field.

But they nearly had themselves a most riveting comeback in the top of the ninth. Down, 7-4, against Dempster, pinch-hitter John Olerud got the ninth off to a promising start, ripping a double to left-center. Edgar Renteria went the other way with a single to right that scored Olerud, and the packed house at Wrigley (including a massive contingent of visiting New Englanders) was in full roar mode.

Not that the Cubs were surprised by the oncoming surge.

"These guys aren't going to quit -- they're not World champs for nothing," said Cubs manager Dusty Baker.

David Ortiz, who has come up big countless times for the Sox in these situations, wasn't able to do it this time, grounding softly to first. But up stepped Manny Ramirez, who roped a double down the line in right, bringing home Renteria and setting the stage for a dramatic finish.

Nixon worked the count to 2-1. Then he got what he suspected was a splitter and turned it into out No. 27.

"I got out, period. I didn't do the job," said Nixon.

There was another tantalizing near miss in the top of the eighth.

That was when Mark Bellhorn nearly delivered the biggest hit of the day. With Nixon at second and two outs, Bellhorn smacked a 2-2 pitch to deep right. However, the ball came down just in time for the Cubs, as right fielder Jeromy Burnitz made the catch in front of the ivy.

Did those seated on the Boston bench think it was gone? Sure, they did.

"Yes, I thought it was a home run," said Sox manager Terry Francona. "Maybe I'm hoping, but I thought it was. Our whole dugout was."

Making the deep flyout more painful was that the Cubs added a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth against Mike Myers (one batter, one single, one earned run) and Matt Mantei (one inning, two hits, one run).

Typically on this trip, the starting pitcher has dug a hole too steep to climb out of. But on this day, Wade Miller kept his team close, lasting seven innings while scattering nine hits and five runs. This time, the bullpen proved to a big culprit in the undoing.

   Wade Miller  /   P
Born: 09/13/76
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 220 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R

"We go to the bullpen and we don't get them out," said Francona. "I think we all felt like, it's not a good way to win, but if you keep it to one, and you have David, Manny, those guys coming up, we always feel like we're going to win."

If Miller had his druthers, the team wouldn't have been depending so heavily on the bullpen and the bats in the late innings. Not after Nixon had delivered a three-run homer in the first and Bill Mueller's solo shot gave the Sox a four-run cushion in the second.

Back came the Cubs with three biggies in the second (after Miller had opened the inning by allowing five straight singles) and the equalizer in the fourth (Todd Walker's one-out triple was the big blow).

"It's frustrating. I'm not pleased with it," said Miller. "I was able to settle down, but the damage was already done after that inning."

After a promising start, the Boston bats fizzled in the middle innings. With the game knotted at 4-4, the Cubs took the lead for good on Henry Blanco's sacrifice fly to center in the sixth.

Miller did contribute with his bat, stroking two singles, making him the first Red Sox pitcher to produce a multi-hit game since Sonny Siebert on Sept. 7, 1972.

But individual highlights weren't the least bit of solace to a team that, quite simply, is in a funk, just three games over .500 for the first time since May 4.

"I mean, we talk about it so much, just being good enough to win," said Francona. "Right now we're, sometimes, [like] today, we're just good enough to lose. That's not good. Consistency at this level is so big and we're having a [heck] of a time finding it."

What will it take for the Sox to find it?

"Just winning ballgames," said center fielder Johnny Damon. "I think everyone's going out playing hard. We just need to win. When you win, everything's a lot easier. You just go with the flow. But right now it's tough, especially being the defending champs."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.