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Mariners 1, Red Sox 0

Wakefield gets no help as Red Sox falter

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / May 29, 2008

SEATTLE - They have been one-hit and two-hit, lost in the ninth inning and the early innings. They have had good pitching performances and bad ones - from the same starter, in fact - and in the end, they have lost five of six games on this 10-game trip through Oakland and Seattle and Baltimore.

The offensive problem was highlighted last night when a home run by Mariners No. 9 hitter Yuniesky Betancourt consigned the Red Sox to their eighth loss in their last nine road games, 1-0.

That was enough to spoil a splendid performance by Tim Wakefield, who allowed only five hits in eight innings, and to reward lefthander Erik Bedard, who shackled the Sox on two fourth-inning singles for seven innings, then turned the game over to Brandon Morrow and J.J. Putz. The three combined to keep Manny Ramírez (1 for 3) in the ballpark as he bid for his 500th home run.

"I think it's a combination of things," Dustin Pedroia said of the offensive struggles. "The strike zone's been a little big. Pitchers have been throwing the ball well. I don't know.

"We had our chances, but we didn't do much."

True. That applied to Ramírez, whose single and walk hardly were the milestones the crowd of 30,752 (largely Red Sox fans) and the folks at home were waiting for. Even ESPN noticed; during the final minute of its Celtics-Pistons telecast, the network ran a crawl when Ramírez led off the seventh. He grounded out.

In the end, he wasn't the star. That honor was shared by Bedard and Wakefield. So much for Bedard's iffy season. And so much for Wakefield's iffy last few starts.

Instead of fireworks, which might have been expected with two starters who carried ERAs well north of 4.00 - Bedard at 4.70, Wakefield 5.19 - offense was almost nonexistent. Except on one pitch.

With one out in the third inning, Betancourt lofted a knuckleball 393 feet into the bullpen in left field, his third home run of the season and the 10th allowed by Wakefield (3-4). It held up, mostly because the Red Sox could do virtually nothing against Bedard (4-3) and his successors. And the one time they threatened - on singles in the fourth by Ramírez and Mike Lowell - a double play bailed out Bedard.

"I thought it was a good pitch," Wakefield said. "Other than that, I felt a lot better than my last start. Able to control the strike zone a lot more. Staying back a little bit more, allowing my arm to travel through the slot a little bit easier. Obviously, it showed with my command of the knuckleball tonight."

Wakefield struck out eight and walked just one. And he wound up throwing to an unfamiliar backstop, Jason Varitek catching the eighth in his first knuckleball action since 2005.

Was it as easy as he remembered?

"Oh, certainly," Varitek said, smiling.

Rather than hits piling up, strikeouts did - Bedard also fanned eight. In one stretch, the pair whiffed five straight batters, with Wakefield getting all three in the second looking, then Bedard starting the third with two more. Bedard also struck out the side in the fifth, using cutters and curveballs to keep the Red Sox off balance.

"His stuff was good," manager Terry Francona said. "So was Wake's. Just one ball up that carries out of the ballpark. Other than that, Wake was spectacular."

Wakefield had struggled mightily recently. He gave up seven runs (six earned) to Minnesota in 2 2/3 innings May 11 (his shortest start since 2003), then allowed three runs in 5 1/3 innings against Milwaukee.

In the first game of this trip, in Oakland, he lasted five innings, helping to save the bullpen, but was tagged for eight earned runs on eight hits (two homers) and four walks.

He had said the problem was mechanical, that he was working to correct it. Whatever he did in the interim, it seemed to have worked.

But it was nothing more than a consolation prize.

One reason was that for the second time in three games, the embattled Julio Lugo wasn't able to sacrifice. Batting for Kevin Cash, J.D. Drew walked to open the eighth. Then Lugo pushed a bunt that was grabbed by first baseman Miguel Cairo, who nailed Drew at second. The rally promptly died.

But a bunt wouldn't have made the difference. Not the way this team has been hitting.

"I think we've seen some pitchers on this trip, we've seen some spectacular arms, we've seen some guys, like a [Justin] Duchscherer game where he just commanded," Francona said. "It's probably a different thing in every game. The one thing we did do, we made Bedard work hard. We didn't have anything to show for it."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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