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Mariners 4, Red Sox 2

Hesitation pitcher

Okajima’s indecision on bunt in 8th contributes to Sox loss

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / July 26, 2010

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SEATTLE — As his Red Sox teammates packed their bags for Anaheim, Hideki Okajima sat facing his locker in the far corner of the visitor’s clubhouse. He barely moved, instead staring into space, as a club official asked him if he would speak with the media. The answer, as it has been for most of his career with the Sox, was no. So it went unexplained exactly what Okajima was thinking in the eighth inning as he glanced back at third base, then glanced back again, missing a chance to get an out at first on a bunt attempt, which eventually led to a loss to the Mariners.

Even his teammates were interested in Okajima’s explanation for not getting a key out in the 4-2 defeat, which meant the Sox only got a series split after having won the first two games.

After Okajima relieved Daniel Bard with no outs and Jose Lopez on first base in the eighth inning of a one-run game, he gave up a single to Justin Smoak. With men on first and second, Casey Kotchman dropped a bunt toward the third-base side. Okajima grabbed the ball cleanly, and looked toward third, where Adrian Beltre was calling for the ball.

Okajima hesitated, looked back again, then lobbed the ball over to first. The throw was late. The runner was safe. The bases were loaded.

“I was yelling for it,’’ Beltre said, adding that Okajima had enough time to make the play at third. “I don’t know why he didn’t throw it. Maybe he didn’t have a good grip or he thought he didn’t have a chance. You talk to him?’’

But there were no answers from Okajima. Instead, the pitcher gathered his stuff and left the clubhouse, bound for the team plane, leaving his teammates to answer for a play they didn’t quite understand.

“He looked to third, looked like he had time,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “Beltre got back, and it started out looking good. He didn’t make the throw to third, and we always give him the option: If you’re not sure, get an out. Then from there, I don’t know if he didn’t have a handle. It didn’t look like there was a lot of urgency. They’re trying to give you an out, and you don’t take it, a lot of times good things don’t happen after that.’’

Added catcher Dusty Brown, “It was kind of the bunt we were looking for. Oki fielded the ball. I thought we had a play at third base. We’ve got to get an out there, wherever it’s at, and we didn’t do it. It ended up costing us.’’

Okajima gave up a two-run single to Michael Saunders — the same Saunders who broke up Jon Lester’s no-hit bid the night before — giving the Mariners a 3-2 lead.

But that wasn’t the end of the fielding miscues for Okajima. As the reliever bent to get a bunt from pinch hitter Milton Bradley, he both missed the ball and got in the way of Kevin Youkilis, who might have had a play at home on Kotchman. Neither fielder got it, Kotchman scoring, and making those watching long for pitchers’ fielding practice back in Fort Myers, Fla.

“They’re both converging,’’ Francona said. “Looked like he cut in front of Youk. ’Cause Kotch didn’t break right away, I think we had a pretty good play at the plate. When he cut in front of Youk, then Youk lost it. He screened it.’’

A Jack Wilson single put the Sox in jeopardy of giving up more runs, but Youkilis made a nice double play on a ball hit by Ichiro Suzuki, tagging first and getting Saunders at the plate. But by then it was too late. The struggling Sox offense, which hadn’t gotten a hit since the fifth inning, continued that trend in a 1-2-3 ninth.

Asked why he brought Okajima into the game in the first place, taking Bard (18 pitches) out, Francona said, “We don’t match up with Bard. We brought [Bard] in in the seventh just because who’s coming up. There’s a couple of reasons. One is if he has a real quick inning, we’re going to send him right back out. Then the other one was to help Oki, rather than flip-flop then. Both were going to have to probably pitch, unless Bard has a real good inning.’’

Bringing in Okajima left him facing the switch-hitting Smoak and lefties Kotchman and Saunders. The Sox liked their chances.

But it didn’t work out, which was not only the fault of Okajima. While Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched well over his six innings and 110 pitches, he again hurt himself with too many pitches and too many walks. He only gave up one run on four hits and five walks, with most of his pitches working, but the extra inning for the bullpen proved to be the undoing of the Sox.

“Stuff was good,’’ Francona said. “The walks don’t help. He had to pitch out of a lot because of the walks. He has an ability to do that. Stuff was real good, it was real crisp. He creates some messes with the walks.’’

And there continues to be another problem. The Sox have barely been able to score since coming back from the All-Star break. After Boston scored twice in the fourth, on a single by new No. 2 hitter J.D. Drew, a walk to David Ortiz, an RBI double by Youkilis, and an RBI single by Beltre, they could barely do anything else as the Mariners set down the final 13 Boston batters.

“We need to start playing better, not only offensively, but in all parts of the game,’’ Beltre said. “There’s no doubt offensively we’ve been a little down, but we know that we can get better.’’

That should be helped by the return of Victor Martinez, who is likely to come back today. But that won’t erase what happened in the eighth inning yesterday, when a ball Okajima didn’t throw to third base contributed to another loss for the Sox.

“It’s disappointing, but it’s a lot of things that we didn’t do right in this game,’’ Beltre said. “It was not just that play, but that play was probably one of the key plays. We didn’t do a lot of things right to win this ballgame. Actually, we didn’t play well the whole series.’’

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