ARLINGTON, Texas — Are the Red Sox actually a contending team or merely an improved team that had a good first month? We’re about to get a much clearer understanding of that.
The Red Sox faced a test over the weekend with three games against the Texas Rangers and failed. The Rangers won, 4-3, on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep.
Adrian Beltre’s walkoff single in the bottom of the ninth sent the Sox back to Fenway Park to deal with their first real predicament of the season.
They arrived in Texas with the best record in the American League. They left having scored four runs. At 20-11, it’s hardly a crisis. But the Sox had their swagger revoked by the Rangers.
Now comes a seven-game homestand starting Monday night against Minnesota.
“There’s no panic in here. We can play better and we know that,” said Mike Napoli, who was 1 for 10 against his former team. “You’re going to have your ups and downs during the year. We’ll get out there tomorrow and get after it and let this series go. We’ll respond.”
A few notes, quotes, and observations:
• With Andrew Bailey unavailable because of a sore bicep, the Red Sox were a man short in the bullpen. Long reliever Clayton Mortensen started the ninth inning as John Farrell kept closer Joel Hanrahan back for extra innings.
With two outs, Elvis Andrus singled. He advanced on a wild pitch when Mortensen threw a changeup in the dirt to Lance Berkman.
Mortensen was trying to throw the pitch low so that Berkman would swing over it. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who entered the game after David Ross was pinch run for in the top of the inning, let it bounce away.
Red Sox pitchers have been charged with 12 wild pitches in the 169 innings Saltalamacchia has caught and three in the 105 innings caught by Ross, who is a strong defensive catcher.
The Sox intentionally walked Berkman to set up a force play at any base. Farrell also preferred the righthanded Mortensen to face the righthanded hitting Beltre.
Mortensen, throwing all sliders, got ahead 1-and-2. His fourth pitch was down but stayed over the plate and Beltre lined into right field.
“Threw him some good pitches,” Mortensen said. “Had a pretty good slider down and he stayed on it.”
• The Sox were 18 of 96 (.188) in the series, 1 for 16 with runners in scoring position. Texas leads the league with a 3.02 earned run average. “We knew this would be a tough series as well as they have pitched all year and the way their team is built,” Farrell said.
• Yu Darvish is pretty fun to watch pitch. He was down 3-0 after home runs by David Ortiz and Ross in the first two innings. Darvish allowed one other hit and struck out nine of the final 13 batters he faced.
Darvish threw pitches from across the spectrum of possibilities. There was a 53 mile-per-hour curveball to Napoli followed by a 95 mile-per-hour fastball. Darvish threw five different pitches for strikes over the course of the game.
“He’s capable of throwing breaking pitches hard or soft for strikes. He had no clue about what his fastball was doing,” Ortiz said. “He can throw his off-speed pitches for a strike a lot. He’s got good command of a slider, two different breaking balls.”
Darvish threw 127 pitches, his most since joining the Rangers from Japan last season. He leads the majors with 72 strikeouts and has already had two games with 14. The last American League pitchers with multiple games of 14 or more strikeouts in a season were Pedro Martinez (three times) and Mike Mussina (twice) in 2000.
• Ortiz’s home run in the first inning extended his hitting streak to 25 games. He is hitting .438 (39 of 89) with 10 doubles, 6 home runsm and 23 RBIs in that stretch.
Ortiz has reached base safely in 33 consecutive games, the longest streak of his career. It’s the longest such streak for a Red Sox player since Dustin Pedroia reached in 37 straight games during the 2011 season.
Ortiz is hitting .440 (22 for 50) with a .473 on-base percentage and a .840 slugging percentage in the 13 games he has played this season since coming off the disabled list. He has 12 extra-base hits, 17 RBIs, and 11 runs.
• Ross gave the Red Sox a 3-0 lead with a deep blast to left field in the second inning. The ball landed in the club level, the third deck of the stadium.
Only 18 home runs have reached that level since Rangers Ballpark opened in 1994 — four by opposing players. Ross joined Mark McGwire (1997), Evan Longoria (2008), and Mark Trumbo (2012) on the list.
“Not many people are as good as I am,” Ross deadpanned. “Close my eyes and swing hard, that’s my approach.”
“He threw me a good slider and I didn’t see it real well. I told myself to slow down,” Ross said. “I felt well-connected the next one.”
It was only the second time in 36 career starts Darvish allowed two home runs in a game.