KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- They need to beat up the Kansas Cities on the schedule before they run into the Detroits, New Yorks, Los Angeleses, Seattles, and Oaklands, which they will see on that schedule starting next week and running through the end of the month.
But somewhere along the way, the Red Sox, 6-4 losers last night, forgot that the Royals are a major league team capable of beating you if you 1. make bad pitches and 2. make bad plays.
The Sox also lost second baseman Mark Loretta, who has a bruised left elbow after being hit by a pitch from Royals starter Luke Hudson in the fifth inning. Loretta left the game in the bottom of the inning, but X-rays came back negative and he is termed day-to-day by the medical staff.
And while David Ortiz launched his 41st homer to pull the Sox within one run in the seventh, the Royals answered with an Emil Brown homer in the bottom of the inning (off Rudy Seanez) to push the lead back to two runs.
With a much-needed sweep no longer possible, the slumping Sox (12-13 since the All-Star break) will go for two out of three as they try to keep pace with Chicago and Minnesota in the wild-card race. Despite the tough evening, they did not lose ground to the Yankees, who lost in extra innings to the White Sox.
The Sox needed a mature-beyond-his-years outing from rookie Jon Lester, but he acted his age. He allowed six hits, three walks, and hit a batter, throwing 105 pitches through five innings. He left trailing, 4-3, and reliever Craig Hansen didnt help himself when he made a throwing error on Angel Berroas sacrifice bunt that led to the Royals fifth run in the sixth inning. That run scored on a short sacrifice fly to center by Mark Grudzielanek, as Coco Crisp made a very weak throw to the cutoff man at second base.
After Ortizs blast 422 feet to straightaway center cut the gap to one, Brown struck on a 3-and-2 fastball to make it a two-run game again. This after his bases-loaded grounder in the fifth just sneaked under Alex Gonzalezs glove on a diving attempt.
I was playing him straight up, and I took the dive and it was maybe an inch under my glove, said Gonzalez, who nearly got to a ball that most shortstops would never dream of getting close to.
Wily Mo Peña blasted a 451-foot homer to left in the fourth inning the 13th-longest homer in Kauffman Stadium history but it wasnt enough.
After the game, Ortiz was studying video with Peña and hitting coach Ron Jackson. Ortiz had a chance for ninth-inning heroics but he was walked by reliever Ambiorix Burgos with one on and one out. Manny Ramírez then struck out and Kevin Youkilis grounded into a forceout to third to end the game.
In the fourth, inning, Peña, perhaps sensing it was time to do something dramatic, hit an inside fastball over the bleachers in left, where it hit up against a concession stand on a bounce. That turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead.
The guys in the dugout couldnt believe how far I hit it, said Pena. I lost it after the foul pole. I didnt know if it was fair or foul, but it stayed fair. After the foul pole, I didnt see any more.
Earlier in the inning, Ramírez extended his hitting streak to a major league-high 23 games with a slicing double to right field. Ramírez scored when Youkilis fought off an inside fastball and punched it to center for a double.
Youkilis was cut down at third on Mike Lowells grounder to short, which preceded Peñas homer.
In these pressure-packed days, the Sox needed the 22-year-old Lester to seize the moment.
It was the first time I caught him, said Javy Lopez, but Im told he can throw harder than he did. He was mostly in the 80s. He had good stuff, pitched good for a couple of innings after he got into trouble and then had some trouble after that.
In the second inning, the Royals scored twice off Lester to break a scoreless streak against Sox pitching at 22 innings. And if it werent for a very nice Gonzalez pickup and off-balance throw to retire Brown for the first out, there would have been even more trouble.
The ground out was followed by a walk to gargantuan first baseman Ryan Shealy, a recent trade acquisition from the Colorado Rockies. The 6-foot-5-inch, 250-pound Shealy lumbered around to third base on John Bucks double to left over Ramírez head. A single and a sacrifice fly got the runs home and put Lester in a hole.
I just didnt have it, said Lester. Any time you dont go six, seven, or eight innings, have a high pitch count, a lot of 3-and-2 counts, its not going to be a good night.
And it wasnt.