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Rays 7, Red Sox 1

Slumber yard

Wooden Sox fall to 4-8 start, 1-5 at Fenway

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / April 19, 2010

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The clubhouse was quiet, nearly empty. The mood appeared gray, like the clouds over Fenway Park, like the rain that had showered the Red Sox off and on as they lost their third straight game to the Rays, their fourth straight overall, moving them closer to the Orioles at the bottom of the American League East than the Yankees and Rays at the top.

The joy, once again, had wandered over to the visitors’ clubhouse, where the Rays could be found enjoying their best ever start to a season. The Red Sox? If they weren’t exactly mourning their worst start since 1996, they surely were uncomfortable with themselves and the way they have played through their first 12 games, including yesterday’s 7-1 loss.

The Sox (4-8) haven’t played well. They haven’t shown up yet in any facet of the game, with ugly starting pitching, poor relief pitching, an inability to hit (especially with runners in scoring position), and confused and highly imperfect defense. They deserve their record, which includes a 1-5 start at Fenway and has them stuck between the Blue Jays and Orioles in the standings.

“I don’t think we’re real happy with what our record is,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be. When you’re making a lot of right turns [to the dugout], you’re trying, I think it’s human nature. But again I don’t see guys firing helmets or doing things out of the ordinary. We’re just not having a lot of success right now.’’

Although they might not be flinging their equipment around, there are more subtle ways in which the Sox are demonstrating their frustration. Few players were available in the postgame clubhouse. They dressed silently. They walked out. Many were gone by the time much of the media entered the room.

It made sense, of course. With the way the team is playing, what exactly could they say?

Jon Lester, though, said his share. Lester, who has continued his stretch of abysmal pitching in the first month of the season (2-6, 5.46 ERA), appeared less defeated in his comments than he had after his outing in Minnesota. There was more defiance in his words and in his bearing. He was feistier, perhaps more determined.

“I don’t know what I have to do,’’ Lester said. “I just have to be better. That’s all I know. I have to be better. It’s unacceptable. I’m letting the rotation down, I’m letting the bullpen down, after [Saturday night] I’ve got to do a better job and go deeper in that ballgame. I’ve got to give them a blow and I didn’t do that.

“Most importantly, I’m letting the team down with how I’m throwing the ball right now. I’ve got to pick it up and kick myself in the [rear]. I don’t know what else I need to do. I’m going to figure it out, and everything’s going to ride on from there.’’

Using one of Josh Beckett’s favorite expletives, Lester described a sequence in which he allowed B.J. Upton to come back from a 1-and-2 count in the sixth inning, as the center fielder eventually hit a two-run homer. That followed Carlos Pena’s second-inning two-run homer, off a fastball away. Lester also allowed two runs in the third inning, walking the first two batters, which was followed by a sacrifice and a two-RBI single to right field by Ben Zobrist.

“I’m getting tired of getting ahead of guys and end up going to 3-2 and end up being predictable,’’ said Lester, who allowed seven runs on seven hits over six innings, walking three. “Whether I walk him or give up a hit, it’s unacceptable. I’ve got to do a better job, especially when I get ahead of guys. I didn’t do that today.’’

Both of the homers landed in the center-field camera well and were, according to Rays manager Joe Maddon, “mangled.’’

“There are times he’s taken away the defensiveness that he’s created in the at-bat by running a count full and becoming a little bit predictable in a fastball count, challenging guys with fastballs,’’ pitching coach John Farrell said. “When you then take that and look back over the past couple of years, it’s a matter of consistent execution from pitch to pitch that we’ve seen from mid-May on the last now three years. He’s been much more consistent and much more dominant.’’

In other words, he needs to put hitters away. Lester yesterday threw more changeups than cutters, the hard stuff yielding to the hits by the opposition. It was those pitches, as Farrell said, especially the fastballs in fastball counts, that led to six of the seven hits allowed by Lester.

Not that the defense, including his own throwing error in the sixth, helped him out. And his offense certainly wasn’t there.

With Matt Garza having his way with the Sox bats, the Rays pitcher got through seven innings having faced only the minimum. He allowed just three hits and got three double plays in that span, in addition to Adrian Beltre being thrown out at second on the first Sox hit of the game in the fifth. It was clear that not only was Garza masterful, the Sox were just as lost at the plate.

“Things are going to turn around,’’ Lester said. “We’re not going to play like this all year. We’re too good of a team, too much talent on this team to keep playing like this. Things will be better. I don’t know when, but they’ll get better.’’

Maddon agreed.

“These guys are really good and they’ve been good for a long time,’’ he said. “I think it’s a matter of we’re playing pretty well right now; maybe they’re not playing as good. I don’t take anything for granted about them as the season is in progress. They’re going to be very good, they’re going to be right there. It’s just right now we’ve been able to get the edge. Never take them for granted, never.’’

The Sox, too, have faith in themselves. Even as they have struggled, especially at home against their division’s best, there is the sense that they believe they can be better than they are now. They can right themselves and their season, perhaps as soon as this morning.

“We’ve just got to keep working,’’ Francona said. “Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us. We’ve kind of dug our own hole. So we’ve got to dig ourselves out.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmalieBenjamin.

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