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Pen fails to close deal

Relievers struggle again in loss to KC

By Ben Collins
Globe Correspondent / July 10, 2009
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The heat around the bullpen is getting so heavy, the responses so flustered, some Red Sox are starting to make euphemisms for the banal.

“On that 3-2 count, I got what I wanted,’’ said Justin Masterson. “But the ball happened to fall where nobody was.’’

Here it is, simpler: Ryan Freel got a hit. A bloop hit, but a hit nonetheless. And an RBI. The Royals got five runs, in fact, off the Boston bullpen in last night’s 8-6 victory.

Masterson, ever affable, beat down a smile after he said it because he knew he had been too tricky. It’s getting harder for the team to find recent evidence to go on when they suggest that the bullpen isn’t struggling, so they try to find new topics or they flee the scene quickly after the game.

Manager Terry Francona remains confident.

“We’ve turned it over to the bullpen a lot of times and been in pretty good shape,’’ said Francona. “We just couldn’t hold them down in the sixth.’’

Francona said Freel’s bloop hit had an effect on Masterson.

“We go to Masterson and he made a real good pitch on Freel that falls,’’ said the manager. “That to me is a big pitch. He hit it in no man’s land. And then they get a homer.’’

That two-run David DeJesus home run was the worst damage of the four-run sixth inning. Ramon Ramirez gave up one more run in the eighth. Even before the Orioles’ 10-run comeback 12 days ago, Boston’s bullpen, widely regarded as the best in baseball, had begun to struggle.

Even if Francona recognizes the trend, he isn’t ready to hit the panic button.

“Let’s talk about the bullpen tonight,’’ he said. “Our bullpen gave up some runs. When you look for four innings of relief, that can happen.’’

Francona is trying to maintain composure while the Yankees are surging. The Bombers have won 13 of 15, sweeping through American League cities and trouncing contenders, and receiving lockdown stuff from their bullpen. Yesterday, Joe Girardi’s pen fired 5 2/3 scoreless innings to secure a series-sweeping win in Minnesota. In Boston, Manny Delcarmen and Masterson were giving up RBI doubles and home runs to the Royals.

The Royals, now 37-48, hadn’t had a four-run inning since June 14. The Yankees, now 51-34, moved into a tie for first in the AL East.

Jason Bay said the team isn’t paying much attention to that. He doesn’t have any euphemisms, but maybe a proverb.

“No one expects [the bullpen] to be perfect all the time,’’ he said. “They are the best bullpen in baseball. You can’t always be perfect.’’

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