Red Sox can't avoid harmful Rays
Lugo bobble burns them in latest loss to Tampa Bay
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - In the Red Sox dugout after the fourth inning yesterday, Brad Penny found Julio Lugo. "Keep your head up," Penny told him. "It happens."
The simple play Lugo had failed to make occurred before much tension had been built in the 5-3, series-deciding Red Sox loss to the Tampa Bay Rays - before Carl Crawford had stolen all six of his bases, before Manny Delcarmen revealed his first hint of ineffectiveness this season, and before the potential tying run died on second base in the eighth inning.
Lugo placed the Red Sox in a hole they couldn't climb out of by botching an easy and necessary play. The shortstop fumbled the transfer after getting a forceout at second, negating a possible double play and allowing an extra run that created the deficit the Sox fought all afternoon but never could surmount.
The Sox sauntered into Tropicana Field having taken early command of their division, and they headed for New York and the new Yankee Stadium hoping they hadn't let the Rays off the mat. The Rays limped into the series, and they exited having "picked up the intensity dial," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
"We have 140-something games left," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "I don't think anybody is hitting the panic button because we got beat three out of four. You can't sit back and say, 'Oh, no, we lost three out of four. The season is over, let's go home.' We're going to be fine."
The Sox had chances to even the series throughout yesterday's closing game, but the deciding play happened early on. The Rays had taken a 2-1 lead in the fourth when Rays catcher Michel Hernandez came to the plate with men on first and third and one out.
Penny needed a reprieve. Hernandez gave it to him: a ground ball to second base. "That's exactly what we were hoping they'd do," Sox manager Terry Francona said. "Hit it right to Pedey so we could turn two and get the heck off the field."
Pedroia fielded the ball, shuffled, and flipped underhand to Lugo. Hernandez lumbered like a catcher to first. It was perfect, except, "you play middle infield, you kind of miss the exchange sometimes," Pedroia said.
Lugo tried to transfer the ball from glove to hand but the ball trickled out and rolled into the outfield. Akinori Iwamura scampered home from third. The Rays led, 3-1, their tenuous lead made secure for ace James Shields.
"Just dropped the ball," Lugo said. "That's a big play for us. We turn that double play, it would have been different. I just dropped it. That play, we have to turn it. For us to win games, we have to turn that play."
Penny absolved Lugo afterward, but anger dominated his initial emotions. He kicked dirt on the mound and howled, then punched the inside of his glove.
The missed chance capped a frustrating inning for Penny. The two Rays who had started the rally - Iwamura and Jason Bartlett - both reached on bloop hits, Iwamura's a double that landed on the left-field line and Bartlett's a jam shot to center that left him holding only the knob of the bat. "That's baseball," Penny said.
Even with the obstacles, Penny gave the Sox their first quality start in almost a week, allowing three runs in six innings. He chastised himself for the two walks he issued, both of which led to runs. But he at last mixed his best stuff with proper command. His fastball buzzed into the lower half of the strike zone, which is what he needs for success.
"All his pitches were much better," catcher Jason Varitek said.
Penny, who allowed four earned runs in 2 2/3 innings his previous start, seemed at one point as if he might be headed for another early shower after Carlos Pena clobbered an RBI double to the left-field corner in the first.
Penny settled, though. He struck out five of the next nine batters after Pena's double and rolled into the fourth with the score tied.
"Obviously, we needed that double play ball, and we just didn't get it," Pedroia said. "It happens to everybody."
Lugo's drop would stand as the most costly missed chance by the Sox, but not the only one. Delcarmen could have kept the Sox within two by continuing his season-long scoreless streak in the seventh. Instead, he loaded the bases with one out by hitting Pena, then forced in a run by drilling Pat Burrell in the ribs.
"I just didn't have any feel," Delcarmen said.
Hunter Jones wiggled out of the jam, and the Sox nearly knotted it in the eighth after Kevin Youkilis hit a two-run homer, his team-leading sixth this season.
J.D. Drew followed with a single, his third hit of the day, and Jason Bay drew a walk. The Sox trailed by a run, the tying run on second base, reliever Dan Wheeler on the ropes. Mike Lowell popped up and jogged toward first. Before he reached the base, the ball had settled into the right fielder's glove and he had slammed his helmet to the turf.
"We were two hits away from changing that game," Varitek said. "We got some guys on base, hit some line outs. On the flip side, they got some guys on base and had some balls fall."
"It seems like we were that one hit away this series that we needed to get us a win," Pedroia said. "We just didn't get it this series. Hopefully, we can get it the next series."
Adam Kilgore can be reached at email@example.com