Out of range
Lugo, Red Sox can't get their hands on victory over Texas
Terry Francona chose Julio Lugo as his starting shortstop last night, the reasons for which were inexact and kept mostly private. Francona spoke with bench coach Brad Mills and pitching coach John Farrell about various factors. He allowed that when he decides between Lugo and Nick Green, "it's not a perfect science."
Lugo's insertion in the lineup became a central issue in the Red Sox' 5-1 loss to the Texas Rangers last night before 37,519 at Fenway Park, most of whom had voiced their disapproval of Lugo's range by night's end. Starter Brad Penny allowed five runs, and all of them were earned. Depending on one's perspective, all of them also could have been traced to Lugo's diminished range.
Fresh off sweeping the Detroit Tigers, a first-place team, the Red Sox floundered in their first game against the American League West leaders. Rangers starter Kevin Millwood shut out the Sox for seven innings and came out for the eighth despite having thrown 105 pitches. The Sox knocked him out with three straight base runners, including an RBI single David Ortiz dumped into right field. Eddie Guardado entered and stymied the rally. The Sox threatened in the ninth but did not score against Darren O'Day.
Ortiz saved another swing for the fans who booed Lugo after he dived and missed a pair of singles that led to runs, one in the fifth with two outs that preceded Ian Kinsler's three-run homer and one in the sixth. The Fenway crowd has been quick to boo.
"Those are going to be hits," Ortiz said. "The guy is diving for the ball trying to catch it. What else can he do? It's not like he's not hustling trying to get the ball, you know?
"The guy's had surgery on his knee. But he's trying. He didn't miss a ball that anyone else could have had, did he?"
Did he? Lugo could not answer, be cause he left the park before reporters arrived in the clubhouse. His teammates defended him, though.
"They were on David earlier, and it's nice to see them get behind him," catcher Jason Varitek said. "The result is a lot different when they're behind them. Lugey is a part of this team, and I'd like to see them get behind him."
Varitek was asked, does Lugo seem a step slower since surgery?
"I don't know that," he said. "I just think, regardless, he's part of this team. He's a Red Sox. We need people behind him."
The Sox had won four straight since Francona shuffled the lineup and made Dustin Pedroia the leadoff hitter, and the offense that has slumped before this year proved it can bounce back. The search for a reliable shortstop continues. Jed Lowrie took full batting practice yesterday, so that might be a start.
After Millwood and Penny traded zeros, the Rangers broke through in the fifth. Penny had silenced them to that point, throwing some of his best fastballs of the season. They zipped through the gray, brisk night at 96 miles per hour on a downhill plane. The only hit in the first four innings came when Jarrod Saltalamacchia ripped a pitch down the first base line that hit Kevin Youkilis in the glove so hard it was ruled a hit.
"His first four innings were as good as we've seen," Francona said.
Penny continued cruising when the fifth began, striking out David Murphy to lead off the inning. And then trouble arrived. Marlon Byrd hit a grounder in the hole on the left side. Lugo made a running, backhanded stop, but his wild throw pulled Youkilis far off the base. Chris Davis belted a single to left, but Penny moved close to escaping the inning when Saltalamacchia flied to left.
With two down, Elvis Andrus hit a hard grounder in the hole on the left side, and Lugo shuffled over. Lugo entered the game with a .733 zone rating, which means he has successfully fielded about 73 percent of the ground balls in what is considered the shortstop zone. (For comparison's sake: Andrus, his counterpart, entered with an .851 zone rating, and the four other everyday shortstops in the AL East each have at least an .815 zone rating.)
Lugo came close enough to Andrus's ball to dive, but he could not stop it. Byrd raced around to score, and the Rangers grabbed the lead. The missed play was compounded one batter later, when Kinsler launched a 3-and-2 pitch over the Green Monster for a three-run homer.
Penny leaned over in frustration after Andrus's single rolled through the infield, but said it did not affect him. "No," Francona said. "This isn't Little League."
The Rangers added a run in the next inning after another close encounter with Lugo's glove. This time, with two outs and Hank Blalock on by a walk, Byrd rolled a ball up the middle, not hit that sharply, to the left of second. Lugo ranged and dived and watched the ball trickle into center. Davis followed with a ground-rule double to right to bring in Blalock. Francona came out for Penny, his night over after 5 2/3 innings.
Penny pitched under odd circumstances. Roughly 90 minutes before the game, he sat on a clubhouse couch and watched a college game on ESPN. Every couple of minutes along the bottom of the screen, Penny could read about how the Atlanta Braves are reportedly discussing a trade for him with the Red Sox.
Penny has been the subject of trade rumors, seemingly available because the Sox have Clay Buchholz in the minors and John Smoltz nearing the end of his rehab. Penny has pitched well enough to warrant suitors, and he said he is unfazed by the talk.
"That's been my whole career," Penny said. "I don't look at that at all, really."
While Penny couldn't last through the sixth, Millwood dominated. The Red Sox managed six hits in the first seven innings. Millwood struck out five, and his final victim was Lugo. Leading off the seventh, he looked at strike three and said a few words to home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg. The crowd booed him again. Lugo walked back to the dugout.
Adam Kilgore can be reached at email@example.com