ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The splitter was left up and out over the plate, exactly where Daisuke Matsuzaka did not want to locate the pitch to Dioner Navarro. So, as the pitch flew out of the park to right field, 6 1/3 innings of shutout ball, including a ground out with the bases loaded in the second, became moot. The scoreless tie was broken and, though Manny Delcarmen would help put the game out of reach for the Red Sox, it was Matsuzaka who took the loss in a 5-2 defeat at Tropicana Field.
But after a seven-game road trip through Cleveland and Tampa Bay, the focus just as easily could have been put on the two straight series wins, the 5-2 record, and the emergence of the bat of Manny Ramírez, who took another pitch out of the park yesterday, his fourth in his last eight games.
Though they lost a game in the standings to the Yankees, one day after gaining a game, it matters that the Red Sox hit the road to such success. Because they'll be seeing it a lot over the next few weeks (three games at Fenway before heading to the West Coast and Baltimore).
"I think we're playing really good baseball," Mike Lowell said. "Five-and-two on our road trip, with four games in Cleveland? We do that, we're going to be fine. I don't think we can have any complaints."
While he might not, Matsuzaka did. He wasn't terribly pleased with the splitter he threw to Navarro. He had been getting good results on his offspeed pitches, but that single pitch negated much of that.
"Since he hit it, I guess it was a mistake," Matsuzaka said through a translator. "With both teams at zero runs at that point, that was the situation I most wanted to avoid. I was going for a swing-and-miss there. Unfortunately it [didn't happen]."
Matsuzaka wasn't the only pitcher throwing well yesterday. Scott Kazmir, noted Red Sox nemesis, had entered with a 5-3 record and a 2.76 ERA in 12 starts against Boston. He had already faced Matsuzaka this season, a 4-1 win for the Red Sox back on July 3. But this one wouldn't go that way.
Kazmir struck out eight, scattering six hits over six innings, walking just one. Though Kazmir allowed at least one runner in every inning other than the sixth, his stuff was good enough to leave a few batters shaking their heads -- like Dustin Pedroia, who struck out swinging in the fifth on a 96 mile per hour fastball from the lefty.
"You don't see Pedroia miss three fastballs very often," Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He had good stuff all day. There were some times when he exhibited great stuff. That was one of them right there."
While Delcarmen had provided impressive relief since he was brought up from Pawtucket June 17 (1.47 ERA), he wouldn't do the same on this day. Delcarmen inherited one runner from Matsuzaka (Josh Wilson singled after Navarro's homer) and, after a fielder's choice, allowed a single to left by Brendan Harris. Then came the big shot, a three-run home run by B.J. Upton, followed by a solo homer from Carlos Pena, making it 5-0.
"If I could take it back, I would," Delcarmen said. "It pretty much just shows that you make a mistake, they're going to hit it up here. I got a little frustrated because we scored two the next inning. I just wanted to go out there."
He didn't, with Julian Tavarez taking over. But the Red Sox did attempt a comeback. After Kazmir had baffled the Red Sox over his six innings and 97 pitches, he was removed in favor of Scott Dohmann and Gary Glover. While relying on their relievers has not always been a winning proposition this season for the Devil Rays, Dohmann and Glover combined to allow just two solo homers in three innings, as Glover threw 50 pitches to get the win.
With two outs in the eighth, Ramírez took Glover out to left field. That was followed by Kevin Youkilis doing the same. But it wasn't enough.
Matsuzaka, meanwhile, was pitching effectively, getting out of a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the second by inducing a grounder to second from Wilson. He also had two on, no out in the third, but he got Upton to line into a double play and struck out Pena. Matsuzaka had six strikeouts, including Pena and Jonny Gomes twice each.
But after the game was over and the loss attached to his name, Matsuzaka took a moment to reflect on his pitching, comparing it to his experiences over the past two seasons with the Seibu Lions. He's not where he wants to be, it was made clear, even after giving up just two runs over 6 1/3 innings yesterday.
"If my feel for the ball while I was pitching for Seibu was about a 10, I'd give myself a six or seven right now," Matsuzaka said. "Still, I think the important thing is to pitch well in challenging spots. Of course, I didn't want them to hit that home run today, but there's nothing I can do about it now."