When skies clear, it's all Angels
After the sixth inning last night, when a decision by Red Sox manager Terry Francona to send David Ortiz from first on a full count led to a break in the 1-1 tie with the Los Angeles Angels, it looked as if the small-ball game would be won on mistake-free pitching, managerial strategy, and error-free defense.
The latter two held true. The former did not.
In the top of the seventh, a half-inning after the Red Sox claimed a 2-1 advantage when the designated hitter rumbled around the base paths to score on Manny Ramírez's double, Jon Lester (5-1, 3.49 ERA) had his bid to keep his perfect record crumble.
The free-swinging Angels, who entered last night averaging 6.2 runs per game this month, nearly matched that total in the seventh. The Angels scored six runs, four charged to the lefthanded starter and two to reliever Manny Delcarmen (4.18 ERA), en route to an 8-3 victory and souring the night of Boston's two prize youngsters, who are probably on the wish list of every general manager that calls Theo Epstein before Monday's trade deadline.
The Sox are only a half-game ahead of the Yankees, who blanked Tampa Bay last night, 6-0.
``Once Manny gives up the two runs there, it got away from us," said Francona.
The Angels, who entered Fenway averaging 5.3 runs on the road this season, are 18-5 in July. It's a record they'll look to improve this afternoon when undefeated phenom Jered Weaver (7-0, 1.15 ERA) faces 13-game winner Josh Beckett.
Last night's starters began the night -- albeit two hours two minutes later than originally scheduled because of the rain, wind, and lightning -- with the intentions of making it a pitching duel. Lester used his fastball, cutter, and curve to limit the Angels to one run through six innings, spotting his pitches on both sides of the plate and not walking a batter.
Kelvim Escobar, throwing considerably harder than his lefthanded opponent, mixed his fastball, slider, changeup and splitter, striking out the side in the first inning and recording strikeouts (eight total) against every batter except Ortiz, Jason Varitek, and Alex Gonzalez.
Lester, who allowed one run in the second, started off the seventh like he had most of the night -- with a first-pitch strike. That pitch, however, was up in Garret Anderson's hitting zone, and the left fielder bounced a single up the middle, kicking off an inning that would make a mess of scorecards around New England. Designated hitter Tim Salmon followed with another first-pitch single.
Catcher Mike Napoli grounded into a fielder's choice for the first out, but first baseman Robb Quinlan drove in Anderson with a slow roller that third baseman Mike Lowell couldn't snag in time. Then Maicer Izturis doubled home Napoli, giving the Angels a 3-2 lead and ending Lester's night.
Delcarmen couldn't stop the damage, as Howie Kendrick lined a first-pitch single to center field, driving in two more, both charged to Lester. By the time the carnage ended (Javier Lopez replaced Delcarmen, who retired one batter), 11 Angels had come to the plate, the 12th time Los Angeles has batted around this season.
``We did a terrific job of hitting with runners in scoring position and got some two-out base hits," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. ``I think [Anderson's RBI single off Lopez ] was big, too, to keep us where we needed to be."
In the previous inning, the Sox snapped a 1-1 tie after Ortiz dribbled a slow roller to the mound that Escobar (7-9, 3.84 ERA) failed to field cleanly. Then when Ramírez worked the count to 3 and 2, fouling off a pair of two-strike pitches, Francona sent Ortiz against Escobar, a power pitcher who struck out 10 in his other start against Boston this season.
The move paid off, as Ramírez lined a double down the left-field line. Third base coach DeMarlo Hale waved Ortiz around, and the DH slid into home, tagging the plate with his left hand.
But Escobar, despite not recording an out, bore down (he even removed his glasses, which appeared to be fogging up in the steam bath that was Fenway) and retired the next three -- Trot Nixon on a strikeout, Jason Varitek on a grounder to second, and Lowell with another swinging strikeout.
``He had great stuff," said Scioscia. ``For him to control a lineup like Boston and get so many strikeouts, it just shows what kind of stuff he had tonight. I thought he did a terrific job against a lineup that's very, very dangerous."
The game started at 9:07 p.m. because of the turbulent weather, which sent most of the 36,109 for cover. At one point, the bleachers were hardly visible from the press box, which was being pelted by driving rain. Thunder boomed and lightning crackled over Fenway, as staff ordered fans in the Monster Seats off the Wall. On the field, the grounds crew placed sand bags in front of each dugout to prevent them from flooding.
The Sox tried to rally in the ninth against Brendan Donnelly, but third base umpire Gary Cederstrom ruled Ortiz had gone around on a full-count check swing. Ortiz, who had his head down and aimed for first base, looked back at Cederstrom in disbelief, his hands on his hips. Then he tossed his helmet toward home plate. It was that kind of night for the Sox.