ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - It's a long, lonely, dispiriting trudge out to the mound to remove a pitcher in the middle of an inning. It usually signals a problem. Or, as manager Terry Francona said, "When you see me out in the field that much, something's not going right."
Last night, in the seventh inning, a whole lot of somethings weren't going right.
Two pitching changes - Manny Delcarmen's and Craig Hansen's removals - had gone by, two long marches to the mound, before Francona finally hit on something that worked. David Aardsma, six batters into the inning, got an out. But that wasn't it. Francona would have one more pitching change (Aardsma giving way to Javier Lopez) before three outs were recorded.
For a bullpen that had been on a roll heading into the road trip, it hasn't been a fun week. Not only have the Red Sox lost five of six games, but the bullpen has allowed 14 runs (six last night) in 10 innings the past five games, culminating in a 7-6 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field.
"After a game like tonight, things don't look very rosy," Francona said. "We believe in them [the relievers]. They have to believe in themselves. Tonight was a very disappointing inning. Things unraveled that in our opinion shouldn't have. We'll see how good we are. Because those are guys we believe in."
Even after embattled reliever Hideki Okajima managed to get through the sixth - in the wake of yet another early exit by Daisuke Matsuzaka - the rest of the bullpen couldn't make a three-run lead stand up. Hansen was assessed both a blown save and the loss, the bullpen's 15th setback this season. That exceeds the total for the entire 2007 season (14).
On Delcarmen's 3-2 pitch to the first batter he faced, Jason Bartlett sent a double down the right-field line, then stole third. That was followed by an infield single by Akinori Iwamura that scored Bartlett and perhaps shouldn't have been a hit at all. On the play, Delcarmen was late covering first base. Then he compounded the problem, giving up a single to Carl Crawford.
Three batters, three hits.
"Just a bad day in general," said Delcarmen, who had been scored upon in just one of 14 games before a three-appearance streak in which he's allowed six runs in 1 1/3 innings. "I looked up [on the Iwamura ball]. Where it was hit, I thought it was going to go through, then I see [Kevin Youkilis] make a great play. Part of me should know just to land that way, just go with the ball. He beat me to the bag just because I hesitated that split second. Like I said, anything that could go wrong went wrong."
Had Delcarmen gotten the out at first, there would have been one out, one run in, and no one on. That's quite a different scenario.
Hansen, who did not talk to reporters after the game, was no better. He began by walking B.J. Upton to load the bases. Then it was ball, ball, ball to Carlos Peña. Two more pitches and Peña had a walk, getting an RBI for his trouble and narrowing the Sox' lead to 4-3.
Evan Longoria erased it, his double to the wall in left-center scoring Crawford and Upton. And while Aardsma did his job, Lopez got one out (swinging strikeout of Gabe Gross), only to give up a two-run single to Bartlett as the Rays sent 11 batters to the plate.
"We ran into falling behind, battling the counts, just [not] being able to throw strikes," catcher Jason Varitek said. "A few different elements.
"We need them to throw well. It's as simple as that."