Red Sox fan and Brookline native Conan O'Brien was in the on-deck circle by the time last night's game lurched into the bottom of the ninth, rain having delayed the start until 9:01.
But a half-hour after midnight, the Sox needed a home run, not a one-liner. Instead, on a night they managed only singles -- 11 of them -- they went down quietly, 4-2, to the Chicago White Sox, who tweaked both of Boston's Japanese pitchers, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima, in sending Boston to its third straight loss and fifth in eight games. The Red Sox' lead over the Yankees in the American League East remained at seven games, the Yanks having lost hours before the Red Sox took the field.
Long after this one was over, Matsuzaka sat staring into his locker. When he arose, he whacked a clubhouse wall with his arm before heading upstairs for his obligatory session with the media of two continents. Most of his teammates made themselves scarce, in no mood to discuss another defeat on an 11-game homestand fast becoming forgettable.
"We're getting hits," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "We're not stringing them together or getting them with two outs. You go through some things -- bad luck, not enough [luck]. They say you make your own luck or breaks, but we're not doing enough to make it better."
The White Sox waited out Matsuzaka for six walks, three of which were converted into runs by A.J. Pierzynski, who singled home Chicago's first run in the first and knocked out Matsuzaka with a two-run single after Matsuzaka had walked the bases loaded in the sixth.
"He pitched himself into a box," Francona said, "where you give up a single and it's a couple of runs."
Chicago strongman Paul Konerko then added an insurance run when he homered off Okajima to start the eighth, the first home run allowed by Okajima since John Buck of Kansas City homered on the lefthander's first pitch in the big leagues, 172 batters earlier.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, had runners on first and second with one out in the seventh and the leadoff man on in the eighth against the White Sox but failed to score against one of the league's worst bullpens. Facing minor league call-up Ryan Bukvich in the seventh, Manny Ramírez came up a few feet short of hitting a home run into the center-field triangle, the ball run down by center fielder Jerry Owens, and Kevin Youkilis whiffed.
"That ball goes out and we win the game," Red Sox shortstop Julio Lugo said of Ramírez's drive.
Mike Lowell blooped a single to open the eighth, but Jason Varitek grounded into a double play and Wily Mo Peña, playing for the injured J.D. Drew (tender hamstring), flied to center.
Closer Bobby Jenks set down the Sox in order in the ninth for his 26th save. Dustin Pedroia, who had three hits, swung at a letter-high, 3-and-1 fastball and fouled to third to send home the remainder of a crowd of 36,913.
The White Sox bullpen had been 3-14 with a 7.36 ERA in its last 60 games.
"We're not frustrated," Lugo said, who grew testy at the suggestion. "I don't know why you guys keep saying that."
Matsuzaka striking the wall, Youkilis slamming his helmet to the ground, and Pedroia hurling his bat like a lance into the earth suggests less equanimity than Lugo claims.
"You've got to understand," he said. "We lose some and we win some. We're still ahead."
For what it's worth, the Red Sox are 48-27 when Drew starts, 8-12 when he doesn't.
Matsuzaka, who skipped a side session this week as an antidote to the onset of fatigue, gave up just two hits, both to Pierzynski, but his six strikeouts couldn't spare him the damage wrought by his walks. When he wasn't creating his own problems, he was getting an assist from plate umpire Tim McClelland, whose strike zone at times was the size of a Wasabi pea.
Two-out free passes to Jim Thome and Konerko, both on full counts, resulted in a first-inning run when Pierzynski lined another full-count pitch to right for a single.
Matsuzaka had thrown 89 pitches by the time he faced countryman Tadahito Iguchi to start the sixth. Iguchi fouled off the first pitch, then walked on four pitches. Matsuzaka then missed on four straight to Thome, prompting a visit from pitching coach John Farrell, his second of the night. Matsuzaka then lost Konerko on a full count to load the bases.
The Japanese righthander thought he had Pierzynski struck out on a 1-and-2 pitch that appeared to catch the outside corner, but McClelland thought otherwise. Pierzynski followed with a ground ball that first baseman Youkilis was unable to smother, the ball continuing into right field as Iguchi and Thome scored.
In 20 starts, Matsuzaka has issued 46 walks in 130 2/3 innings. Assuming he doesn't miss a start and averages the same number of innings, he should finish with 33 starts, 216 innings, and 76 walks, which would be his most walks since he passed 117 in 240 1/3 innings for Seibu six years ago.
Francona was waiting in the Sox dugout with a handshake when Manny Delcarmen walked off the mound at the end of the sixth. Delcarmen, growing up faster than Harry Potter and in fewer volumes, had kept the White Sox from scoring again after Matsuzaka departed, two runs already in, two men still on base, and no one out. Delcarmen struck out the dangerous Jermaine Dye, and after Rob Mackowiak grounded a single to right to reload the bases, he kept his composure. Josh Fields hit a tapper to Lowell that the third baseman converted into a force play at the plate, and Juan Uribe popped to short.
One of the best barometers of a reliever's effectiveness is how many inherited runners he has allowed to score. Delcarmen has been summoned into games with a total of 10 runners on base. None has yet to cross the plate. Delcarmen, who grew up in West Roxbury, has yet to be charged with a run in front of the home folks. In eight appearances in Fenway Park (nine innings), he has not allowed a run while whiffing 13. He also has yet to allow a run anywhere in eight July appearances.
The splendor of the Sox bullpen, however, couldn't mask the problems the Sox offense had putting runs up on the board against White Sox starter Javier Vazquez, who gave up six hits in the first two innings but allowed just two runs.
Pedroia had two of those hits and drove in Boston's second run, but he also made a base-running blunder that cut the Sox rally short, getting caught in a rundown between first and second when right fielder Dye's throw to the plate was cut off. Coco Crisp, who was on third, broke for the plate after Pedroia was hung up, and was tagged out by Pierzynski.