ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - It was only a week ago that Sean Casey's base-running skill was an object of mirth, Casey himself reduced to laughter when he stumbled back into second base in Yankee Stadium and gleefully signaled himself safe.
No one was laughing last night, however, when the Red Sox first baseman broke down like an also-ran in a claiming race while coming around third base in the second inning of a 5-4, 11-inning loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. An initial exam showed that Casey had a strained right hip flexor, according to the club. Suddenly, Mike Lowell's weekend rehab assignment with Pawtucket took on added urgency.
But not to the point, manager Terry Francona said, where they would consider activating Lowell today instead of leaving him with the PawSox.
"We're not going to do that," Francona said after the Sox lost their third straight on one of the longest night's of David Ortiz's career, one in which he went hitless in six at-bats for only the fourth time. "It didn't surprise me, but I had two texts from Mike Lowell. That was not the shocker of the evening, because that's how he feels.
"We don't want to make a mistake. We do something like that, and he hurts that thumb, that would be a poor decision."
Lowell was lobbying long distance even before Mike Timlin gave up a tiebreaking single to career minor leaguer Nathan Haynes, who eschewed the bunt with two on and no outs to drive home Carl Crawford, who capped a great night (two triples, a terrific diving catch, and a single and stolen base in his last at-bat) to score the winner.
Timlin warmed up before the eighth, but felt some tightness in his back and returned to the clubhouse for treatment, Bryan Corey getting the summons instead. But with the score still tied in the 10th, Timlin replaced Javier Lopez, got a couple of outs to end the inning, but had no answer when Crawford opened the 11th with a single and stole second. The next batter, B.J. Upton, drew a full-count walk, and while Francona called a summit meeting on the mound to discuss how to handle the bunt, Haynes surprised everyone by swinging away.
"I don't know, I guess Joe [Maddon] just took a chance and it paid off," Timlin said of the Rays manager. "I threw a couple of good pitches, a couple cutters in, one he swung over, the other he got enough of to pull past [Dustin Pedroia]."
Casey had been a productive bat in Lowell's absence, batting .342 (13 for 38) in the 13 games in which he played since Lowell was placed on the disabled list April 10. Lowell is eligible to come off the DL today, but the plan was for him to play three games with the PawSox, including tonight and tomorrow in Buffalo. Lowell, who served as the designated hitter, had a two-run single in five at-bats in Pawtucket's 6-1 win last night. He is supposed to play third tonight.
Casey, who reached on a walk during Boston's three-run second inning last night, was coming home to score on Jacoby Ellsbury's single to left when he broke stride about halfway down the line. He was laboring as he crossed the plate and limped down the dugout steps. When the Sox finished their at-bats, rookie Jed Lowrie emerged from the dugout to play third, with Kevin Youkilis moving across the diamond to first.
"I saw him right away," Francona said. "He was dragging his leg. Before he hit home plate, I told Lowrie to get loose. On examination it wasn't horrible, but I'm sure we're going to lose him for some time. We'll get that figured out."
Casey said afterward that at first he couldn't lift his leg, but was able to do so after the game.
"Right now I feel better and better," Casey said. "I know there's a lot of stuff going on here. I'll see how I'm feeling tomorrow, but I am feeling better than I was two hours ago."
The Sox failed to capitalize on the kind of gift the Rays have time and again handed them back in the days when they still had "Devil" in their names. Second baseman Akinori Iwamura inexplicably failed to make certain to retire Kevin Cash, the lead runner, on Pedroia's bouncer with one out in the ninth. Cash had stopped between first and second, meaning Iwamura could have tagged him or just turned and flipped to second for a certain out.
Iwamura, who was probably thinking he could record an inning-ending double play if he quickly tagged Cash, was unable to do so, then panicked and threw to first, too late to catch Pedroia as Cash scrambled to second.
"We're taught not to get tagged," said the catcher, who had three hits and a sacrifice fly but was replaced by pinch runner Coco Crisp after he reached second.
Rays reliever Dan Wheeler had the daunting task of retiring Ortiz and Manny Ramírez if he wanted to live for another day. Ortiz threw his bat with disgust toward the visiting dugout after flying out to shallow center, and Ramírez, who had three hits, went down on strikes.
"Our bullpen came in and got out of some hairy situations," Maddon said.
Terrific defense also kept the Rays in the game. Center fielder Upton took a hit away from Ellsbury with a diving catch in the fourth. Left fielder Crawford made an even better catch to take a hit away from Pedroia with two on and two out in the sixth.
Shortstop Jason Bartlett went deep in the hole to take a hit away from Lowrie with one out in the eighth and turned a terrific double play on Julio Lugo to end the 10th.
"We had our chances," said Francona, who had Jonathan Papelbon warming up three times, "but just could never shove another run across."
Gordon Edes can be reached at email@example.com.