Red Sox fall in Nomar's return to Fenway
Smoltz allows five runs in six innings; bats silenced by rookie
BOSTON -- Much like Nomar Garciaparra had never played a game at Fenway Park as a visitor before Monday night, John Smoltz had never taken the mound wearing the home whites of the Red Sox.
Unfortunately for the Red Sox, Garciaparra -- a fan favorite during his years in Boston -- enjoyed the unique evening a whole lot more than Smoltz did.
The right-hander was touched up for a four-run fourth inning, and the Red Sox didn't recover in a 6-0 loss to Garciaparra and the Athletics.
However, the man who stole the show was A's rookie left-hander Brett Anderson, who fired a two-hit shutout. For Anderson, a highly touted prospect who is 21 years old, it was the finest performance of his young career.
"He absolutely abused us," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "We did not swing the bats well at all, and he pitched real well. He threw all his pitches to both sides whenever he wanted to."
Smoltz, a potential Hall of Famer, has had plenty of days like that himself. But this was not one of them. Making his third start since being activated, Smoltz allowed 10 hits and five runs over six innings, walking one, striking out three and throwing 99 pitches.
"I went back and watched the whole game again and I'm still shaking my head on some of the hits and some of the plays," said Smoltz. "Some of the pitches that I didn't think should have gotten hit, and they found holes. Two bad pitches in the whole game and you have to tip your hat to the kid tonight. He pitched a magnificent game."
The Red Sox (49-33) have lost four of their past six and lead the Yankees by just one game in the American League East.
"We haven't gotten a ton of offense [lately]," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "We actually love our team. I don't think you see too many teams win 125, 130 games. It doesn't always go perfect."
Garciaparra celebrated his first game at Fenway since 2004 by going 2-for-4 with an RBI. He received a thunderous ovation when he stepped in for his first at-bat.
"A bunch of TV people wanted me for a postgame [interview] on the field," said Garciaparra. "I told them, 'What do you want me for? Did you see our pitcher tonight?!' It's not about me from a baseball side tonight. It was all Brett."
In some ways, however, it was also about Garciaparra and his ability to finally have closure with the fans who adored him during his time (1997-2004) with the Sox.
"It looked like it really touched him," Francona said. "It's a pretty special place. I hope that never changes. They're crazy fans, but they're so wrapped up, emotionally, in their team and the people that have been a part of their teams. I think that's pretty cool."
After a strong first three innings, Smoltz (0-2) had a letdown in the fourth. Jason Giambi led off with a double to right and Kurt Suzuki followed with a bunt single. Up stepped Garciaparra, who drilled an RBI single through the hole and into left to give the A's (35-46) a 1-0 lead.
"Leadoff double, bunt single and I don't know how Nomar hit that pitch," Smoltz said. "He hit it in the hole, but I was fine with all that."
What didn't sit well with Smoltz was what happened after he retired the next two batters. Mark Ellis slammed a two-run double and Adam Kennedy stung an RBI single, and just like that, the Sox were down, 4-0.
"What I hate more than anything is two-out runs," Smoltz said. "But I felt in control. I threw the ball really well. I didn't have much to show for it tonight, but as mad as I get, I have to make sure to realize I'm making a lot of progress even though the results don't look like that."
The pitch to Ellis?
"It was a split," said Smoltz. "He had to be sitting offspeed. I hadn't thrown him one yet. Having said that, I have to make a better pitch and keep it at 1-0. It might not have mattered, but I bet he pitches different if it's 1-0 vs. 4-0."
Smoltz's mood turned salty during the string of two-out hits, as he yelled angrily a couple of times before the inning ended.
"He's one of the biggest competitors I've ever seen," said Varitek. "It's just time. He's still building. He'll be better in a month than he is right now."
As for Anderson (5-7), he walked two and struck out nine.
The Red Sox had their first true scoring opportunity in the bottom of the seventh when Jason Bay lofted a fly ball to deep right-center that wound up a three-base error off the glove of center fielder Scott Hairston. But with Bay at third and one out, Anderson didn't buckle. Varitek popped up and Rocco Baldelli flew to right, ending the threat.
"I don't think he could have done anything any better to be honest with you," said Baldelli. "He has great stuff and he seems like he has a really good idea of what he's doing out there. He located pretty much every pitch that I saw."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.