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Rays 3, Red Sox 2

No gain, just pain for Sox

When Youkilis tweaks ankle, wily Rays seize the advantage

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / July 7, 2010

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Most Red Sox fans did not realize that Niuman Romero was on the roster until the fourth inning last night when Kevin Youkilis limped off the field with the latest injury to befall the team.

In came Romero, a 25-year-old rookie from Venezuela who was called up last week. When the game was over and the Red Sox had absorbed a 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, Romero, through no fault of his own, had come to embody the frustrating limitations of a roster patched up with journeymen and prayers.

“I’ve been playing this game for so long. I have never seen anything like this,’’ David Ortiz said after the Sox lost their third straight. “We go through injuries every year but what I’m seeing right now is just like a curse.’’

With Romero plugged into the cleanup spot for Youkilis, the Rays intentionally walked Ortiz three times, each time with a runner on and two outs. In the seventh, Rays manager Joe Maddon went so far as to order Ortiz walked with first base occupied.

Romero flied to left in the fifth, grounded to first in the seventh, and ended the game on a groundout to second. That left him 2 for 18 in his career.

“I don’t get the base hit today to drive them in,’’ Romero said. “But I think tomorrow’s going to be a new day.’’

The Sox, down 3-1 going into the ninth, gave themselves a chance to win when Bill Hall drew a walk off closer Rafael Soriano and scored on a triple by Eric Patterson.

With two outs, Ortiz was walked. Red Sox manager Terry Francona then used Mike Cameron to run for Ortiz and let Romero hit.

Asked why he did not use Cameron as a pinch hitter, Francona said he was out of players and did not want to give up his DH by putting Ortiz at first base.

“No, I didn’t think of doing [using Cameron as a pinch hitter]. Is that a good enough answer?’’ Francona said. “I thought what we did put us in the best position. In my opinion that gave us the best chance to win.’’

The Sox are carrying four bench players. Romero was in the game. Darnell McDonald had pinch hit for Kevin Cash earlier in the ninth, and Gustavo Molina would have been needed to catch had the game gone into extra innings.

Francona, in theory, could have hit Cameron and put him in center field. Center fielder Eric Patterson is an experienced second baseman and Hall could have played first.

Hall has never played first in the majors, however.

“Obviously David can hurt you, they’re not going to mess around with David. That’s good baseball by them, they put us in a tough situation,’’ Hall said. “Nothing against Romero, but he’s in a tough situation.

“We’ve been catching a lot of bad breaks lately.’’

The one bit of positive news is that Youkilis expects to be ready to play tonight. He jammed his right ankle on the artificial turf of Tropicana Field in the third inning and when he went to the plate in the fourth, his ankle “locked up.’’

Youkilis, shaking his leg repeatedly, tried to stay in before being escorted into the dugout. X-rays were negative, however, and by the end of the game he was moving without discomfort.

“It felt like I had a cramp in my ankle,’’ Youkilis said. “It’s the most strange thing ever. I’ll be in there [tonight].’’

Rookie starter Felix Doubront (1-1) and Scott Atchison held the Rays to two runs over seven innings, giving the Sox a chance to steal a victory with their patchwork lineup.

“I did my best,’’ said Doubront, who allowed two runs on five hits and four walks over 5 2/3 innings in his second career start.

But Hideki Okajima served up a long solo homer by Carl Crawford in the eighth inning that proved to be a crucial run.

Tampa Bay starter Jeff Niemann (7-2) allowed only one unearned run over six innings, when J.D. Drew reached on a two-base error and scored on a single by Daniel Nava in the fourth. Niemann scattered four hits, walked three, and struck out five.

Ortiz said he was trying to stay positive by focusing on the fact that Victor Martinez, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, and the others on the disabled list do not have season-ending injuries. But that is growing increasingly more difficult. The Sox have four losses in six games and are 6-7 since June 22.

“Man, it doesn’t even sound right. You have nine guys on the DL, guys that are pretty much everyday players. When is the last time you heard about something like that?’’ Ortiz said.

“We better not talk about it. The more we talk about it, the more people get injured. Just leave it alone and act like it’s normal.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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