A’s bury Sox
Penny is rocked for 5 runs in first
It made little sense. As soon as the Red Sox began to regain their hitting strokes with their return to Fenway Park, it coincided with a drop in the quality and duration of their starts, or of the effectiveness of their bullpen. While Tuesday night the blame fell on the arms trotted out at the end of the game, last night it was the arm at the beginning.
From the moment Adam Kennedy - he of the five hits the night before - took Brad Penny’s initial offering out of the park, the Sox trailed. Penny gave up five runs in the first and Boston never recovered, losing, 8-6, to the A’s in front of 38,193 at Fenway. The defeat was the Sox’ eighth in 11 games.
“It’s like we can’t put everything together,’’ Penny said. “When we’re pitching we’re not hitting, and when we’re hitting we’re not pitching. So, I’ve got to do a better job. I can’t give up five in the first. We probably win that game if I don’t.’’
That left the Sox with a day and a half until tomorrow’s 4 p.m. trading deadline, with cracks showing and losses too frequent lately. With a swoon before the deadline seemingly routine in Boston, and as the Yankees and Rays continue their pace, the questions are looming larger than they had for much of the early season.
“We’re frustrated, absolutely,’’ Mike Lowell said. “The last two series, not to take anything away from those two teams, but we feel like going in there, we win the first two against Baltimore, you want to sweep the series. And here you’re looking after the way we won the first game and where we were [Tuesday] night, you’re looking to hopefully take three out of four. Now we’re salvaging the split [today], hopefully. I think there’s definite frustration. I don’t think there’s panic.’’
By the ninth pitch of the game, the bases were loaded, one run was in on a homer, and pitching coach John Farrell was on his way to the mound for a chat. It had happened quickly, the first pitch from Penny rocketed over the Wall, then two singles on the next three pitches.
“What are the chances of the guy hitting the first pitch out of the park?’’ Penny said. “Second ball’s a ground ball. Get the ground ball I want for a double play, but it’s not hit hard enough, so it’s bad luck and walking the guys killed me.’’
All this came after manager Terry Francona had indicated his bullpen was a bit thin in the wake of the 11 innings Tuesday night, and his preference was that his starter would not have to make an early exit. But that’s what happened.
With the bases loaded in the first, Penny got his first out with an RBI fielder’s choice. After Tommy Everidge walked to reload the bases, Rajai Davis unloaded them with a double. It was 5-0 before the Sox came to the plate.
“Oh, man,’’ Francona sighed. “I was talking before the game about the last thing we needed was an early exit, and we’re staring at a disastrous inning in the first inning. You look back, Brad gave up home run, hit, hit, couple walks, and he’s 1 and 2 on Davis with the chance to get out of the inning with two runs. Obviously, there’s a lot that led up to that, but if he can wiggle out of that, it certainly looks like a different ballgame.’’
For Penny, it was a matter of location, his inability to throw his offspeed pitches for strikes, leaving him with just a fastball.
“You could tell from the first pitch of the game they were hunting fastball and he wasn’t able to get glove side,’’ said Francona. “[On a] couple he tried to get in there [and it] wandered back over. He was basically using his fastball and when he didn’t locate it, they were ready to hit it.’’
The Sox had some chances late. A collision between Davis and Ryan Sweeney that electrified the crowd gave three bases to Jason Bay in the eighth. Mike Lowell hit a sacrifice fly to score one run, but with David Ortiz pinch hitting for Jed Lowrie as the tying run, with men on first and second, he popped to third to end the inning.
The first two batters reached in the ninth, too, putting the tying run at the plate in the form of Kevin Youkilis (strikeout), Bay (strikeout), and then Lowell. The third baseman, who hit a three-run homer in the first, ripped a single up the middle, scoring one. But J.D. Drew grounded to first, ending the game, and putting the Sox 3 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the East.
And so the Sox come into today’s series finale looking for a split, looking for an answer, whether from the trade market or from within.
“It’s been a grind,’’ Jason Varitek said. “We haven’t swung the bats well at the same time we’ve pitched well, and I think those things have to come into play. We’ve found different ways for things not to really go right and those things are ahead of us, because really there’s been every facet that something’s gone wrong in.
“We still rest on our starting pitching, first and foremost. If we have quality starts, we have a chance. Offense will eventually come around. But if we don’t put up quality starts day in and day out, it’s tough for offenses to take over.’’