It was the type of nightmare Matt Clement probably came out of with a cold sweat more than once. Only this time it was really happening and he couldn't do anything to stop it.
The right-hander of the Red Sox opened the postseason for his team by getting shelled to the tune of eight runs, seven hits and three home runs over 3 1/3 innings. By the time the Red Sox dug in for the top of the second, they were already in a 5-0 hole. By the end of the day, the defending World Series champion Red Sox were on the losing end of a 14-2 romp against the White Sox.
Clement offered no excuses, just cold hard facts that couldn't be sugarcoated.
"It's a very disappointing outing," Clement said. "You want to go out there and set a tone, and I set the tone about as far the opposite way as I could. It's disappointing. No excuses. I threw bad pitches and they hit them."
Pounded them, in fact.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox couldn't do much of anything against Jose Contreras, a pitcher they used to rip with regularity when he wore Yankee pinstripes.
"Go back, rewind and look at all those pitches and see how much they moved," said Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon. "Even on TV they looked incredible. It was not fun."
If there was any consolation, it was that the Red Sox would much rather suffer a humiliating defeat like this in the Division Series opener than the finale. They send big-game specialist David Wells to the mound on Wednesday night in hopes of bringing the best-of-five series back to Fenway Park in a 1-1 tie.
"All I can do is be thankful it's only one game," said Clement. "Maybe they got all their hits out of the way today."
The third pitch of the day from Clement could not have been any more tone-setting, as he hit leadoff man Scott Podsednik. The White Sox immediately went to their aggressive style of play, as Tadahito Iguchi put down a sacrifice bunt, getting Podsednik to second. After Clement hit his second batter of the inning, Jermaine Dye, Podsednik stole third, putting cleanup man Paul Konerko in an ideal RBI situation. The first baseman got the run home with a fielder's choice to third.
From there, the damage kept building.
The big swing of the inning came from A.J. Pierzynski, who belted a three-run homer to left. Konerko added a solo shot to left in the third to make it a 6-0 lead.
"We had some time today, unfortunately, to come to grips with the way the game was going," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "The one thing we didn't do is go through our entire bullpen. That's not an easy game, to sit there and watch us give up runs, but at the same time, I don't want to go out there and throw a ton of pitchers in a ton of innings in a game we were already down pretty significantly."
There was one juncture when it appeared the Red Sox had a chance. It came in the top of the fourth, when Boston finally made Contreras (7 2/3 innings, eight hits, two earned runs) sweat. Trot Nixon started it with a single to right. Jason Varitek then surprised the White Sox by laying down a bunt single down the third-base line. Joe Crede booted the ball while he was in pursuit of it, allowing Nixon to go all the way to third. A wild pitch by Contreras allowed the Red Sox to score their first run. Kevin Millar followed with a double to the opposite field in right, trimming it to 6-2.
But then came an extremely unconventional defensive play. With Millar on second and nobody out, Bill Mueller hit a grounder to second. Usually, the runner would automatically reach third with the second baseman going to first for the easy out. But Iguchi defied logic and fired to third, easily getting Millar.
"It's a risky play," said Millar. "If he throws the ball in the dugout, we have something going. It turns out to be a good play on his part, but it was a risky play at that time. We needed to make it a 6-3 game right there, that would have kept us right there."
Did Francona consider going with a new pitcher at that point and giving someone else a chance to keep Boston in the game?
"No, we wanted to get him further in the game," said Francona. "We wanted to get Matt through the leadoff hitter. We would bring [Chad] Bradford in to face the right-handed hitters and get out of the inning, and we could go longer if we needed to."
That plan was instantaneously snuffed out. Pierzynski led off with a double, setting up Juan Uribe for a game-breaking two-run shot that led to Clement's exit.
The Red Sox were hoping Clement was going to pitch like the All-Star he was in the first half, rather than the guy who displayed perplexing inconsistency down the stretch.
"We just wanted him to keep us in the ballgame today," said Damon. "We knew that first inning really wasn't good. We needed him to keep it there, but he couldn't. Hopefully we can give it back to him and hopefully he can be better. It's been a rough month for him. I don't know what you'd say after giving up all those runs, but hopefully he can pitch again in this series."
If anything, the Red Sox of 2003 and 2004 made their mark by bouncing back from early losses in the postseason. They will need for that to become a trait again in this series.
"We just have to be ready to play," said Varitek. "Go out and have a short memory."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.