BOSTON - The dagger into the psyche of Red Sox fans was tweaked once again yesterday.
"I don't think anything is really that enjoyable for us right now," said Sox third baseman Mike Lowell after his team's 6-1 loss to Toronto. "I think (yesterday) just adds to that."
Forget what transpired on the Fenway Park field, which by day's end resulted in the rise of the Red Sox's American League East deficit to a season-high 9 games. When a team, which was once the most potent offensive machine at home, scratches out two runs over two games it doesn't exactly elicit runs on the T-shirt rack over at Twins Souvenirs.
The real story of the 2006 Red Sox was taking place in other major league ports of call.
In Milwaukee, a Marlins rookie shortstop by the name of Hanley Ramirez was going 4 for 5 with three RBIs and a pair of runs. He's hitting .287 with 13 homers and 44 stolen bases.
Watching his teammate from the Florida dugout was another rookie, Anibal Sanchez. Just two days before, the Marlins starting pitcher had a six-inning, two-run, 114-pitch no-decision against the Brewers. It was the affable youngster's fifth straight start where he lasted at least six innings without giving up more than two earned runs.
Petco Park supplied some more exclamation points, thanks to players named David Wells, Josh Bard, and Cla Meredith.
Wells started for the Padres against the Reds, finishing his first game away from the Red Sox this season with a six-inning, one-run gem. He was followed by Meredith, who stretched his streak of consecutive scoreless outings with two more shutout innings. And Bard, San Diego's cleanup hitter, capped off the Padres' 2-1 win with a game-winning RBI single in the eighth.
All of these performances sparked a debate which will surely gather steam throughout the final 25 games of the season: Are the Red Sox holding onto the right guys?
Nobody is going to argue that Wells' presence was no longer needed in Boston, considering the team's sudden shift in priorities. But Ramirez, Sanchez, Bard, and Meredith represent a disturbing trend that is being brought to light with the influx of the Sox's newest wave of newcomers.
Boston's side of the story took a hit with Josh Beckett's first mediocre performance in his last three starts. With an ERA still above 5.00 (5.11), the prize of the trade which included sending Ramirez and Sanchez to Florida threw 77 pitches in taking his 10th loss in 24 decisions.
And although another piece of the deal for the Sox, Mike Lowell, strengthened the Boston offense by manning the No. 3 spot yesterday, realizing that Ramirez and Sanchez were key contributors to a team with a $15 million payroll - and remain just two games out of the NL wild card race - didn't make the day hurt any less for Sox fans.
As Red Sox second baseman Mark Loretta correctly pointed out after yesterday's loss, identifying talent in baseball is "an inexact science." It's a point the Boston front office has realized throughout the good and the bad, once putting up a sign on their baseball operations door saying "We don't know (nothing)," in order to keep level heads while correctly pinpointing the talents of David Ortiz, Bill Mueller, Bronson Arroyo, and others.
But with the lightning bolt thrown the Sox's way via the Marlins and Padres clubhouses, perhaps the Boston baseball operations department's most important test to date is upon them. It won't matter about the aforementioned departures, or the successes of other former Sox such as Matt Murton, Johnny Damon, Andy Marte, Edgar Renteria and even short-timer Mike Gonzalez. Can the guys who are still employed by the Red Sox offer a future?
The immediate dividends being delivered by the former Sox farmhands don't make life any easier for those being asked to build the foundation. Infielder Dustin Pedroia has struggled in his introduction to the big leagues, notching just four hits in his first 34 at-bats. And Craig Hansen, another piece to the puzzle, hasn't figured out life in pro ball to the point where Boston feels he is ready for a Sept. 1 call-up.
One game does not make a season, or a talent-evaluating track record. But, like it or not, these are the things that will bear watching in this final month of fast-forwarding toward the future.
Manny starting tonight?
According to Red Sox pitcher Julian Tavarez, who will get the start tonight, fans attending Boston's game against the Chicago White Sox will see a familiar face in left field.
"(Manny Ramirez) will be playing (tonight) in the field, I guarantee you he will," Tavarez said after yesterday's 6-1 Red Sox loss to Toronto. "He'll be in left field (tonight)."
Ramirez has been out of since Aug. 27 with patellar tendonitis in his right knee. The Red Sox also reported that he had to leave Boston's Aug. 21 game with the Yankees with a hamstring injury.
Since Ramirez left in the fourth inning of the Sunday game vs. New York, the Red Sox offense is hitting .194, while averaging 1.9 runs per game. He did get six at-bats after the initial hamstring woes, failing to notch a hit in six at-bats.