Still, their quest to stretch that 12-game winning streak out just a little further proved to be an unlikely quest for the visitors, who suffered a 5-2 defeat to the Marlins on Friday night at Dolphin Stadium.
It ended in the ninth inning when David Ortiz, making a rare appearance as a pinch-hitter, clubbed what looked like a two-run homer to right, only to have the ball land in the glove of right fielder Jeremy Hermida, who was pressed against the wall.
"We just lost a game, we're fine, we'll come back [on Saturday] and play," said Ortiz. "We tried, but they played better than we did tonight, that was the difference. We have to come back tomorrow with a fresh mind and try to win."
What the Red Sox saw was first-hand evidence that a top-flight pitcher who has his best stuff can be more powerful than any momentum generated by a sizzling stretch of baseball that had recently stifled any National League East team that came their way.
The Marlins rode the electric left arm of Dontrelle Willis, who short-circuited the recently productive Boston bats. Willis scattered seven hits over seven innings, allowing two runs while striking out seven.
Mike Lowell, who played against his former team for the first time and received a loud, long ovation, got a taste of what it's like to hit against Willis.
"He pitched well. I've seen him much sharper," Lowell said. "It seemed like when they needed to get the big out, he got it. For him, he was kind of effectively wild, but it worked out. He was able to grind it out and give them quality innings. We just couldn't overcome that early deficit."
That was because Jason Johnson, who made his debut for the Red Sox nine days after being acquired from the Indians, struggled out of the gate, giving up six hits and five runs over four innings while hitting two batters and uncorking a wild pitch.
Perhaps Johnson had too much rust after pitching for the first time since June 19.
"I just left the ball up, missed some spots early in the game," said Johnson. "Once I settled down a little bit, it was too late after you've given up five. Just a rough start."
The only positive news for the Red Sox? They played another flawless game on defense, establishing a Major League record by making it 17 games in a row without an error. The 1992 Cardinals had previously owned the record by displaying perfect glovework in a 16-game stretch.
"I think if you give me an error and we win, I think I'd probably trade that right now for the record," said Lowell. "I liked that we won 12 in a row. I'd rather have 13, but it's something that, I guess it talks a lot about how good our defense is and how much we're excelling in that area.
Johnson's first start in a Boston uniform started in disappointing fashion, as he gave up a single to Hanley Ramirez and then hit Dan Uggla before surrendering an RBI double to Mike Jacobs that Manny Ramirez appeared to misplay.
"I think the ball was hit harder than he thought," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I don't know that I would say he had a tough time picking it up. I just think he went the wrong way one step and that's too much. That ball came off the bat pretty hard."
Miguel Cabrera got another run home on a fielder's choice grounder, and Hermida made it 3-0 with an RBI single to right, capping the damage in that first inning.
The break between innings did not serve as much of a reprieve for Johnson, as he immediately got into more trouble in the second. Again, it was Ramirez starting things with a single, this time hitting a crisp shot that deflected off Johnson. Uggla followed with a single up the middle, putting runners at the corners with nobody out. Ramirez scored on a wild pitch, and Cabrera lofted a sacrifice fly to right to make it 5-0.
"He was obviously up, with not only his fastball, but his breaking ball," said Francona. "It just looked like he was getting out [front], he was quick with everything. Maybe that's a little bit of, he hadn't started in a while, maybe he was a little bit excited. He looked like he was having a difficult time catching up and getting in the right position where he can drive down and let it sink. I thought he kind of did that the third and fourth innings."
The deficit seemed daunting the way Willis was throwing in the early innings. But the Red Sox at last began to do some damage in the sixth. Coco Crisp got things started with a walk, and Kevin Youkilis lined a one-out single to left. A balk by Willis moved the runners up to second and third, a situation Ramirez capitalized on by roping a two-run single to right-center.
"I'm just trying to keep him at bay," Willis said. "I'm not trying to do too much. If he gets singles all night long, that's fine. He's one of the most dangerous hitters of all time, especially in that situation."
It was the last legitimate threat the Red Sox had, thus losing for the first time since June 15 at Minnesota.
"I don't look at win streaks and all that," Youkilis said. "You can go on a 20-game winning streak and the next thing you know, you can go on a 10-game losing streak. This game can do it to you. If you worry about wins and losses every day, and what happened in the past, it's gonna affect you. Like we always say, turn the page. You've got to go on to the next day. We try to win every day."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.