Often times when a 32-20 team takes the field, they'll expect to have a good chance to win. They'll expect to play nine innings of baseball, perhaps with the lead going back and forth in a tense contest that comes down to a wire. And when the final score ends up being 3-1, well, it certainly seems to suggest that's exactly what happened.
Other times Cliff Lee is on the mound, pitching at his absolute best, and it may as well have been over before it started. Tonight was one of those nights. And for all that the Red Sox were tied until the seventh, they were utterly dominated tonight.
Lee did not simply defeat the Red Sox. He made them look foolish. The only damage done against him all night came on a soft Jacoby Ellsbury line drive to lead off the game, and a ground ball single from Dustin Pedroia that just barely squeaked its way into right field to bring Ellsbury home.
The closest the Red Sox had afterwards was two loud fly balls. One from David Ortiz, gone in almost any park, but not in Fenway, with that triangle jutting back to 420 feet. One from Stephen Drew, dead on the track. Other than that, it was Lee getting Napoli to swing out of his boots at nasty cutters. It was Lee freezing the typically agressive Jose Iglesias with a perfectly placed fastball. It was pop-ups and ground outs and strike after strike after strike, each one exactly where Lee wanted it.
This game could have been won, but only with perfect luck and perfect pitching. Ryan Dempster bounced back with a good night, but had a moment of imperfection in the first, allowing a homer to Delmon Young, and some bad luck in the seventh, with another run coming in on a pair of seeing-eye singles and a sacrifice bunt. That Tazawa gave up a second solo homer in the eighth ended up entirely immaterial.
Frankly, the Red Sox' best chance came when Charlie Manuel gave Jonathan Papelbon to close out a game against his old club. And that's saying something given that Papelbon looked like his old top-notch self.
No, this was just not Boston's game to win. There are few enough pitchers who can take over a game like Cliff Lee did tonight and deserve full credit for it, without any failure being lumped on the opposing offense. Cliff Lee is one of those pitchers, though, and tonight, he was unbeatable.