CLEVELAND — After popping out, David Ortiz lingered at home plate and stared into the distance as if in disbelief.
Yep, Big Papi, it’s true.
The built-to-win Red Sox still haven’t won.
One of baseball’s big spenders, the Red Sox dropped their fifth straight to open the season on Wednesday night with an 8-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians, who got four RBIs from Asdrubal Cabrera, a two-run homer from Shin-Soo Choo and took advantage of Boston’s blunder-filled sixth inning.
From Cambridge to Cape Cod, the panic buttons are glowing.
“This game will humble you in a hurry and it’s doing that to us right now,” said manager Terry Francona. “We’ve got to start acting like a good team. We’ve got to find a way to win a game.”
The Red Sox are off to their worst start in 15 years and look nothing like the team many forecast to be the last one standing in October. Boston hasn’t started this poorly since 1996, and after finishing this series Thursday, the Sox head home to face the rival New York Yankees on Friday and what could be angry fans in Fenway Park.
“This team is a lot better than this,” said catcher Jason Varitek, “and it will be better.”
It better be.
Reliever Rafael Perez (1-0) worked 1 1-3 perfect innings for the Indians, who have won three straight.
Cabrera hit a three-run homer off reliever Dan Wheeler to cap a strange sixth inning, when mistakes on the mound and in the field cost the Red Sox four runs.
Matt LaPorta also homered for Cleveland.
In the sixth, Boston relievers Dennys Reyes, on for Daisuke Matsuzaka (0-1), hit the first two batters and walked the third, forcing Francona to make another switch. Wheeler got Michael Brantley to line to third, where Kevin Youkilis dropped the ball.
Youkilis quickly recovered, stepped on the bag and threw home. Veteran catcher Jason Varitek, assuming a force was still in effect, caught the ball with his foot on the plate. However, because Youkilis had already gotten one out, Varitek, who may have been screened, had to tag the runner, but Travis Buck scored without being touched.
“I was trying to secure the out,” said Varitek, a 15-year veteran, who still wasn’t sure what happened. “It’s probably the weirdest play that I’ve ever been a part of. It was totally my fault.”
Buck didn’t no why fans were cheering.
“I had no idea,” he said. “when I saw the umpire say, ‘Safe.’ I was like, ‘Me? The guy on third?’ I got back to the bench and they yelled good baserunning. I don’t even know what I did. I thought I would be out by 30 feet.”
The play underscored Boston’s many struggles so far, and Cabrera made things worse by belting his first homer to right, putting Cleveland ahead 7-2.
The Red Sox are batting just .190, and have a team ERA of 8.33 — hardly championship-caliber numbers.
Before the game, Francona said he makes a point of not watching TV while his team is scuffling, so he didn’t see the graphic showing that no team starting 0-4 has won the World Series. Despite the unexpectedly poor start, he’s not panicking.
“We’ve got 158 games left, so I don’t think we’re going to pack it in,” he said, rocking in his office chair. “It means that we’ve had four bad first days of the year.”
Make it five.
The Red Sox spent millions during the winter, bolstering an already loaded lineup with All-Stars Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. Crawford got two hits with two steals, finally delivering something for the seven-year, $142 million investment the Red Sox made on him in December.
Gonzalez, the only Boston player batting over .300, hit a two-run homer in the seventh to pull the Red Sox to 7-4.
Francona said it’s not the time to panic and he wouldn’t make any major lineup changes. On the positive side is that the Red Sox don’t have much time to dwell on their latest loss with a day game Thursday.
“I don’t think many of us is going to sleep,” Francona said, “so we might as well go ahead and play pretty soon. … We can’t feel sorry for ourselves.”
LaPorta’s shot in the eighth made it 8-4.
Cleveland starter Mitch Talbot struck out seven and held the Red Sox to two runs and five hits in 4 1-3 innings. Manager Manny Acta didn’t take any chances when the right-hander got into trouble the fifth, pulling him with one out and runners at the corners.
Chad Durbin came in and struck out Youkilis before Acta brought in Perez, a left-hander, who retired David Ortiz on a routine grounder.
Cleveland’s best hitter last season, Choo came to the plate in the first batting .063 and in an 0-for-13 slump. He busted out by driving a 1-0 pitch from Matsuzaka over the wall in right-center, scoring Brantley, who led off with a single, to give the Indians a 2-0 lead.
The Red Sox tied it in the second, getting the RBIs on balls that never left the infield.
NOTES: Only the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals made the World Series after starting 0-4. Since 1995, only two of 128 playoff teams started 0-4, Cincinnati (1995) and Arizona (1999). … the Red Sox have been outhomered 14-4. … The Indians drew a major league-low 1.3 million fans last season, and they’re off to a bad start in 2011 with fewer than 10,000 at four of five games. Acta believes wi nning will cure the attendance issue. “The fan base is there,” he said. “I see it everywhere I walk. I see people wearing Cleveland paraphernalia. Do I want to see it packed every day? Of course I want to, but that’s something I can’t control. If you win, they’ll come. My job is to try to make these guys as good as possible as soon as possible so we can bring people to the stadium.”