Red Sox thrown for loss
Longoria, Rays get to Masterson
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - It now falls to Tim Wakefield. Since his last start Monday, when he allowed one hit to the Indians, the rest of the Red Sox' rotation has been broken. Each starter - Brad Penny, Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Justin Masterson - has given up at least five runs in throwing few innings and exhausting the bullpen. Few teams can survive on the type of effort given by the Boston starters.
So a battered pitching staff is seeking another quality start from the pitcher who has been stellar in amassing a 1.17 ERA over his last three outings. The Red Sox could more of that, especially after losing, 6-2, in front of 27,045 last night for their second straight defeat to the Rays.
"It's almost been like now we're almost leaning on him to do that," Mike Lowell said. "He's been pitching great, but I don't think it's fair to expect someone to go eight innings and one earned or none earned. He's been hot, so hopefully we can ride that wave a little bit."
Masterson, who came in with a 2-0 record and a 2.70 ERA, had been expected to provide some relief. His efforts had prompted questions of what the Sox would do when Daisuke Matsuzaka comes back from the disabled list, but last night he hardly had what the Sox needed. It was a combination of little command and a fat pitch to Evan Longoria, one that left Tropicana Field shaking and Masterson shaken.
He entered attempting to lower the rotation's 5.52 ERA. He left having increased it by allowing six runs in six innings, hardly the antidote the Sox were anticipating.
"A sacrifice fly and two home runs is what happened," Masterson said. "Pretty much the [fifth] inning got out of hand. Just made a poor pitch decision to Longoria, one that got out and over the plate, and he put it where he's supposed to. Aside from that I feel really good.
"If I make a better pitch, we might be winning this game today. That's unfortunate for me to have to think about."
Through four innings Masterson allowed just one hit, keeping his pitches down and men off base. That changed in the fifth. He gave up a solid single to Gabe Gross, then walked Akinori Iwamura and hit Jason Bartlett with a pitch. B.J. Upton hit a sacrifice fly to center field, scoring the first run for the Rays, then Masterson walked Carl Crawford. That left the bases loaded for the second time in the inning, this time with two down and the Rays' best hitter at the plate.
Longoria got all of Masterson's belt-high pitch, and he knew it. He stuck his arm out with his fist clinched as he left the batter's box as the second grand slam of his career rocketed out to left field. Carlos Peña followed two pitches later with a homer to right, on what Masterson said was "a sinker that was up-up-up. Pitches were kind of getting up that inning, which was not what we wanted to have." The Rays led by four, and Manny Delcarmen was forced to begin warming.
"I'll take the blame on that one, on the Longoria at-bat," Jason Varitek said. "Made some bad pitch selections, and he made us pay."
Though he wouldn't elaborate on what the poor selections were - because the Sox face the Rays too many more times - he acknowledged there were ways he would attack Longoria differently the next time he's at the plate.
"If he makes a good fastball pitch, what he had been doing all night, then he probably has a good chance of me grounding out or not hitting the ball as hard," Longoria said. "But he left one out over the middle of the plate."
So the Sox, once again, would have to come back. They had done it Wednesday, coming back from five runs down to beat the Indians, but the load that has been placed on the bullpen has affected the offense. And there's just so much the bats can do.
"You feel like you're not a bloop and a blast away from the game," Lowell said. "Four runs means you have to either do that bloop and a blast multiple times, or mount up an inning that - not that we're not capable of it - but the odds of scoring four runs in an inning is not the greatest against any team. It kind of takes you out of the game plan of being aggressive. You want to make sure you don't run into outs, you're not going to steal as much.
"I think we had some opportunities to break the game open. When they had the same chance they did it, and we didn't."
In the third, Jason Bay walked with the bases loaded to score the first run for the Sox, but Lowell grounded into a fielder's choice to end the inning. The Sox had a chance in the second, with two men on and one out. But Varitek flied out, leaving it up to No. 9 hitter Julio Lugo.
He almost came through, sending a shot to the warning track in left. The Sox scored their second run in the fifth, when J.D. Drew knocked in Kevin Youkilis from second. But a stellar play from second baseman Iwamura in right field ended the inning, and stranded Drew at second. The Sox had runners in each of the first seven innings, yet scored only two runs. The stranded 10 in the game.
With their starting pitching troubles over the first two games of the series, the Sox have brought the Rays to life. The team that beat the Sox in the American League Championship Series last year is attempting to turn its young season around. Winning a series - which the Rays haven't done since beating the Sox in the first series of the season - would help quite a bit.
The Sox, though, aren't interested in that. They'd prefer to see a continuation of Wakefield's dominance today, perhaps sending them on another streak, as he did in Oakland.
"It's no fun losing," Lowell said. "Winning 11 in a row is a lot more fun."