Sox shine in day but slip later on
Not long after the gates opened last night and the hardy souls filed into Fenway Park for the second game of the doubleheader, word came that there had been a pitching change. Instead of a matchup between Felix Hernandez and Jon Lester — two of the best baseball has to offer — the fans would see Hernandez face off against Tim Wakefield. The knuckleballer was making his first start in more than a month after Daisuke Matsuzaka’s back stiffness led to a change in the Red Sox’ rotation.
Matsuzaka had been scheduled to pitch against the Rays tomorrow night. Instead, manager Terry Francona met the doctor, members of the front office, and pitching coach John Farrell and made a decision. Wakefield would take Lester’s place last night, Lester would throw against the Rays tomorrow, and Matsuzaka would rest.
The Sox managed to hang in the nightcap, though they eventually fell to Hernandez and the Mariners after winning the first game.
So instead of picking up significant ground with losses by the Yankees and Rays, the Sox found themselves six games back of each in the loss column. The Sox won the first game, 5-3, extending their winning streak to four, their longest since the middle of June. But they couldn’t make it five, losing the nightcap, 4-2.
“Bottom line, we were facing one of the best pitchers in the league,’’ Adrian Beltre said. “We knew that and I knew that. But we had our chances. We didn’t capitalize. Nothing we can do about it now.
“We have to start gaining some ground because this is getting kind of late.’’
But it wasn’t just Lester the Sox lost for last night’s game. Beltre and Francona were ejected after the second inning under a set of bizarre circumstances.
Beltre, who played for the Mariners from 2005-09, was indulging in a bit of trash talk with Hernandez before the top of the third. Beltre had struck out in the second, and was discussing in jest a bet with the pitcher, who vowed to strike out Beltre three times, while Beltre countered by saying he would take Hernandez deep.
He wouldn’t get another chance, as home plate umpire Dan Bellino ejected him and then ejected Francona in a misunderstanding that gravely affected the Sox’ chances.
“That shouldn’t have happened,’’ Francona said. “That’s a shame. He wasn’t even talking to [Bellino].’’
Beltre, who was still upset after the game, added, “I don’t even know who he is. Then I find out he’s a rookie from Triple A and he makes decisions like that. Now, why is a rookie from Triple A behind home plate?
“I didn’t do nothing. Why are rookies behind home plate when we’re trying to freaking win a pennant race here? We have to play against the players and against the umpires now. It’s 25 against 26.’’
Hernandez contained the Sox’ bats, though they still had a chance in the eighth inning when David Ortiz stepped to the plate with two outs and two men in scoring position with the Sox trailing, 4-2. Ortiz, however, lined to left field, ending the inning.
The news was far better in the first game, with Josh Beckett, for six innings, demonstrating what he can be. He had been so good, looking like the pitcher he rarely has been this season. Then came the seventh.
It was then that Beckett gave up three straight one-out hits: a home run into the Mariners bullpen by Russell Branyan, a single to left field by Jose Lopez, and a home run into the Red Sox bullpen by Casey Kotchman. The lead that had been four runs nearly vanished, shrunken to just a one-run advantage.
“The first six were tremendous,’’ Francona said. “Located, used his two-seamer to lefties — that’s the pitch that we’ve talked about. Opened up the plate a bit, threw some real good breaking balls.’’
Once Beckett gave up the home run to Kotchman, Francona provided the quick hook, using Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon to finish out the game.
“I thought he threw the ball great, it was just the one inning that he left a couple pitches up in the zone,’’ said catcher Victor Martinez. “They really put two good swings on that one, but other than that, he was spotting his fastball, using his curveball, changeup, cutter when he was behind in the count. He was able to keep them off-balance. He threw the ball great.’’
The Sox had gotten four of their runs in the sixth, finally getting to former Boston farmhand David Pauley. Singles by Marco Scutaro and Martinez plus a walk to Ortiz left the bases loaded for Beltre with one out. Beltre singled off Pauley’s leg, bringing home the first run, then Mike Lowell added a sacrifice fly and Daniel Nava hit a two-run single to give them some room.
“I was trying to basically just let the ball travel and hit it where it’s pitched,’’ Nava said. “Fortunately, 3-2 he left something around the middle of the plate and I was able to hit a ball hard.’’
Overall, the Sox were left with a good taste from Beckett’s win, even though it was against a lineup that hasn’t exactly distinguished itself this season. Over those first six innings, the Mariners got just one hit and one walk. In fact, Ichiro Suzuki led off the game with a comebacker to the mound that bounced off Beckett’s glove for a hit. The pitcher walked Josh Wilson with two outs in the sixth. That was it — until the seventh.
So what does this mean for Beckett? Does it mean he can turn his season around?
“If I could pitch like I did the first six innings, yeah,’’ Beckett said. “If I pitch like I did in the seventh inning, no, probably not.’’