After only one inning, a scuffling Gavin Floyd had thrown 29 pitches, with one final fling producing the loudest crack of the first.
But the pellet off the bat of Jason Bay shot into the glove of lunging third baseman Joe Crede, ending a bases-loaded first that, had it gone otherwise, might have ended the Chicago starter's afternoon earlier. In the first, Floyd threw only one first-pitch strike to the first six Boston hitters.
Instead, David Ortiz (single), Dustin Pedroia (single), and Mark Kotsay (walk) became three of 11 runners the Red Sox stranded in yesterday's 4-2 loss. Floyd (seven hits, five strikeouts) found the touch on his low-90s fastball and mixed in his curveball to last 6 2/3 innings, allowing only one run as Chicago kept Boston from sweeping the series before 37,391 at Fenway Park.
"That's the way it goes," Bay said. "He made a good play on it, and unfortunately we didn't get much after that."
The Sox rallied in the ninth against closer Bobby Jenks, scoring one (leadoff hitter Alex Cora walked and scored on Jed Lowrie's grounder to second) and putting Jacoby Ellsbury and Coco Crisp in scoring position for Pedroia, batting cleanup for the second straight day.
But Jenks, on a 1-1 count, threw Pedroia a down-and-away slider that the second baseman lifted to shallow left for the final out. An inning earlier, with his club trailing, 3-1, Pedroia drew a leadoff walk from strong-armed reliever Octavio Dotel, who proceeded to get Kotsay to fly to left and catch Bay and Jeff Bailey looking at third strikes.
"We had chances early," said manager Terry Francona. "Bay hits a line drive to third that Crede catches. We really worked [Floyd] in the first inning. Then he got comfortable and started throwing that breaking ball. He could throw it at the hitter, he could throw it away, and he could throw it for strikes. We couldn't break through."
The Red Sox, who put up eight-spots for Daisuke Matsuzaka and Michael Bowden in the two previous wins, couldn't give Tim Wakefield similar production. Wakefield, making his second start after coming off the 15-day disabled list, gave up only six hits, didn't walk anybody, and struck out three.
Wakefield just didn't have an answer for Jim Thome.
"[Wakefield] was much better today than in New York. There were a lot of swings and misses," said catcher Kevin Cash. "Only one guy beat us, and I'd say that Jim Thome's had a pretty decent career."
In the first inning, after Carlos Quentin doubled to left, Thome jerked a 1-1 knuckler around the Pesky pole to give the White Sox a 2-0 lead. It was the Chicago DH's 536th career home run, tying him with Yankees legend Mickey Mantle for 14th place on the all-time list.
"I'm proud to manage this guy," said Chicago's Ozzie Guillen. "This kid makes the ball club better. Every home run he hits is a milestone, but I think he's worried more about us winning than his milestones."
In the sixth inning, after checking his swing on an 0-2 count, the pull-happy Thome took a 1-2 pitch to left field, doubling off the Wall. Thome (2 for 4, two runs) scored to make it a 3-1 game after first baseman Paul Konerko cracked a 1-2 pitch down the left-field line for the second straight two-bagger.
"Wake pitched good," Francona said. "They get back-to-back hits twice and that's really all they did off him. It was enough."
Francona pulled Wakefield after 82 pitches (65 strikes), near the club's ideal target count for his workload, considering it was only his second start off the DL.
"I felt great," Wakefield said. "No lingering effects at all. Obviously they're trying to build my pitch count up again. From throwing 55 pitches at a side to 80 in New York, I was a little sore the next day. I felt better today and hopefully I can keep building some momentum."
In the second, Floyd stranded Cora and Ellsbury at second and third by getting Lowrie to fly to center. In the fourth, after Ellsbury drove in Bailey with a two-out single, Lowrie snuffed out the rally again by stranding two runners, this time swinging and missing on a curveball to end a 10-pitch showdown against Floyd.
Guillen replaced Floyd with Matt Thornton with two out in the seventh, bringing in the lefty to face Ortiz, who could have tied the game with a two-run clout. But Ortiz struck out for the second time, caught looking at a full-count slider.
"The way this team has hit, more often than not we would come through in those situations," Bay said. "Today was just one of those days where it didn't work out. It's not going to work out every time, but if you keep giving us those chances, I think we'll be in a good spot."