BOSTON - Bleary-eyed and beaten, the Boston Red Sox returned home after an emotionally and physically draining 9-8 late-night loss to the Tampa Bay Rays to a brilliant autumn Sunday, the weather clear and crisp, the leaves all over New England bursting out in color.
Inside Fenway Park, the scene was not as soothing, the Red Sox coming out of an 11-inning, 5-hour, 27-minute marathon looking far the worse for wear, whether they would admit it or not.
That's the good news in Red Sox Nation. Lester did not allow an earned run in 14 Division Series innings against the Los Angeles Angels, and he is 4-0 with a 3.38 ERA in seven career starts against the Rays.
But the big picture looks murky for the defending World Series champions. After Lester, the Red Sox will throw Tim Wakefield, the always game but rarely predictable knuckleball specialist, in Game 4, and the effective but often erratic Daisuke Matsuzaka in Game 5. If the series goes to Game 6, Boston will turn again to Josh Beckett, the 2007 postseason ace who seems to be in denial about a rib-cage strain that is clearly bothering the veteran right-hander.
Beckett, who won all four of his playoff starts last season and entered October with a 6-2 record and 1.73 ERA in 10 career postseason games, was rocked for eight runs and nine hits, including three home runs, in 4 1/3 innings Saturday night.
He has allowed 12 earned runs and 18 hits in 9 1/3 playoff innings against the Angels and Rays.
"I feel fine," Beckett said yesterday. "Do you guys know something I don't know?"
Beckett's fastball, normally in the 95-mph range, has dipped to 92 mph, and his breaking ball hasn't looked as sharp. Asked whether he had his full arsenal of pitches Saturday night, he said, "I don't think you can say you have your full arsenal when you give up eight runs."