|Kevin Youkilis doesn't agree with the verdict after he was called out at third in the sixth inning. (PAT SULLIVAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS)|
HOUSTON - Jonathan Papelbon was present in the bullpen in body only last night. He was not an option, even as it all slipped away for the Red Sox in an 11-10 loss to the Houston Astros.
"I'm beat up," Papelbon said. "Just drained all over."
Nothing to worry about, he said as he strolled out of the clubhouse. Another night's sleep, and he expected to be on call again this afternoon, although with the Sox as protective of their pitchers as they are, that may rank as a "to be determined."
"Initially, they had me going in to close," said Manny Delcarmen, a logical candidate to stand in for Papelbon, given that he'd made a dozen consecutive appearances without allowing a run and had retired the last 14 batters he'd faced.
Instead, Delcarmen entered in the eighth ("a short inning and I probably would have gone out for the ninth") and that dominance didn't last another batter. Ty Wigginton, the former Tampa Bay Ray, led off the bottom of the eighth with a tying, opposite-field home run, and Lance Berkman, who had been tied up in knots by Jon Lester in whiffing his first three at-bats, sliced an opposite-field, two-run double to climax an improbable comeback.
"I just looked at the video," Delcarmen said. "The pitch to Wigginton was away, and he just got his bat out there. When he hit it, I thought there was no way it had the height to go out. A 3-and-2 pitch, I didn't want to walk him with anything offspeed."
Darin Erstad followed by lining a pinch single ("A hanging curveball," said Delcarmen), and Brad Ausmus, the Dartmouth grad, showed that at 39 he can still drop down a bunt, sacrificing Erstad to second after being sent to pinch hit by manager Cecil Cooper.
Delcarmen struck out Michael Bourn, but walked Hunter Pence before Berkman delivered.
"We made some mistakes out over the plate and we about paid for every one of them," said Sox manager Terry Francona.
The Sox don't expect to lose on a night they score 10 runs, Dustin Pedroia and Mike Lowell each have four-hit nights, Manny Ramírez and Kevin Youkilis each stroke two-run doubles, and Jacoby Ellsbury hits a misjudged RBI triple.
But lose they did, Lowell's solo home run in the ninth off Astros closer Jose Valverde not enough to salvage victory in a game in which the Sox failed to hold leads of 4-0 and 9-6. The last time the Sox lost a game in which they scored 10 runs came almost two years ago, during the Yankees' five-game sweep in August 2006, at Fenway Park.
A three-run home run by former Sox infielder Mark Loretta, on Lester's first pitch after taking Miguel Tejada's comebacker off his left ankle, catapulted the Astros into the lead during a five-run third as they erased the 4-0 advantage the Sox had forged in the top of the inning.
Lester, who also gave up a two-run single and bases-empty home run to Houston strongman Carlos Lee, refused to link Loretta's homer to the ball he took off his ankle, even though it hurt enough that he took a few more warmups before resuming.
"It was one of those things that gets you in the right spot and knocks you for a loop with instant pain," said Lester, who was charged with six runs on nine hits in five innings. "But I was fine after that."
Lester still stood to come away with a win when the Sox scored five in the sixth off Astros starter Brandon Backe and reliever Geoff Geary. Houston right fielder Hunter Pence froze on Ellsbury's liner that was scored a triple, and Youkilis capped the rally with his gap double, though he was thrown out at third trying to take an extra base on the throw home.
But that five-spot did not hold up, either, the Astros scoring two in the seventh off David Aardsma and Craig Hansen (one run scoring on a passed ball charged to catcher Jason Varitek) before rising up against Delcarmen in the eighth.
The switch-hitting Berkman, now batting .366 after salvaging his night with an RBI single in the seventh before his deciding hit, merely added Delcarmen's name to a long list of victims this season.
"Berkman stayed back on my changeup well," Delcarmen said. "It was a good changeup, but he just slapped it the other way."
The interleague portion of the schedule comes to an end today.
The Sox have won 11 of 17 games against their National League counterparts. The Sox are 39-14 in interleague play since the start of the 2006 season, which does not include their four-game sweep of the Rockies in last fall's World Series. For the Astros to win the rubber game of this series, they'll have to beat Josh Beckett on his home turf.
Beckett grew up in the Houston suburb of Spring, where he was a schoolboy legend, both as a hitter and pitcher.
Beckett will have a chance to rectify the one real blemish on the Sox interleague resume: Sox pitchers are 0 for 22 with 17 strikeouts.