Twins give Sox knuckle sandwich
Wakefield & Co. chew on tough one
MINNEAPOLIS — Their bags were packed in the visitors clubhouse, ready to be loaded onto the plane and returned to Boston. There hasn’t been much time spent there for the Red Sox, just a three-game cameo against the Yankees, as they have traveled from Fort Myers, Fla., to Washington, to Kansas City, to Minnesota, with only that brief stop at home.
And yesterday, it appeared that they would rather have been home unpacking. Or anywhere but Target Field.
“Not a very good day,’’ manager Terry Francona said, the understatement apparent after his team came out flat and mistake-prone in an 8-0 loss to the Twins.
For a team with pitching and defense at its core, yesterday was a good day for neither. Not only did the Sox commit three errors, plus a mental mistake by Victor Martinez, Tim Wakefield allowed six runs (five earned) over 5 1/3 innings, as his team was shut out by Francisco Liriano and two relievers.
“It was a very ugly game today, and that started with me on the mound,’’ Wakefield said. “I wasn’t able to stop the bleeding quick enough.
“I just didn’t have very good stuff today. Just one of those games where I tried to grind it out as long as possible. I had really no feel for the breaking ball, couldn’t throw my fastball for strikes, and my knuckleball also wasn’t doing very well.
“Managed to get through four innings decently, then in the fifth and sixth just couldn’t control it anymore.’’
Wakefield allowed his first run in the second inning, as three straight singles yielded an RBI for J.J. Hardy. But the real damage didn’t occur until the fifth and sixth. The first run of the fifth came across on back-to-back doubles by Nick Punto and Denard Span. After Orlando Hudson struck out, the Sox made the decision to walk Joe Mauer. Hard to argue with that — until Justin Morneau lashed an RBI single to right.
In the sixth, Wakefield got the first out. That was it. After Adrian Beltre made a throwing error to allow Hardy to reach — though Beltre made a nice play to grab the ball — Punto singled to put men on first and second. Span doubled, the ball shooting down the right-field line, and the relay came in quickly. Martinez had the ball at home as Hardy took a wide turn at third. Martinez, though, threw to second trying to get the retreating Span, but the throw was dropped by Marco Scutaro. Hardy and Punto scored. Wakefield was done.
“Their guy is rounding second with his head down,’’ Francona said. “We’ve got him in a position where we’ve got a chance to get out of the inning. [Martinez] waited on Scutaro to get back toward the bag. Their guy at third ends up making a heads-up play. That’s a reaction play. I actually thought we had a chance to get out of that inning.’’
They didn’t. And, by that point, it was mostly moot — especially with Liriano looking like the Liriano of old, the Liriano with magic.
His slider dominated, his fastball sizzled, and he left the Sox shaking their heads, walking slowly to the dugout. He allowed four hits and two walks in seven innings, striking out eight, appearing quite a bit like the pre-Tommy John Liriano of 2006.
“He should be very proud of himself, the way he threw the ball today,’’ Bill Hall said. “He’s definitely got his old stuff back. After a surgery like that, it usually takes a little time, but he’s got the velocity back on his slider.
“For me personally, in the past, he hadn’t thrown his changeup that well. He threw it pretty well today, and just didn’t give in to a lot of hitters and never made any mistakes.
“When you’ve got a guy making you swing at his pitch all the time, it’s going to be a pretty tough day.’’
And it was.
In addition to the Beltre error and the Martinez miscue, the Sox had two more errors. Hall recorded his second of the season in as many starts, this one coming as a center fielder, after the first came as a shortstop. Hall fumbled a single to center in the second, allowing runners to move up, though it didn’t lead to any runs. Then, after a wild pitch by Wakefield in the fourth, Martinez threw the ball into the outfield, as Michael Cuddyer advanced, though he didn’t score.
“We gave them some extra opportunities, some extra chances,’’ Francona said. “That was a tough way to play the game today.’’
They didn’t hit or field or pitch. Yes, that would be a tough way to play a baseball game.
“It’s bound to happen,’’ Mike Lowell said. “I don’t think you just chalk it up and say, ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter.’ It does. But it’s going to happen.’’
Fortunately, the Sox now return home. They return to a park that has been far friendlier over the past few years than the road has. And even for a team that is battered and bruised — literally, among the outfielders — there is comfort in coming home. There is a sense that things might just turn around, even with the Rays coming to town this weekend.
“Hopefully we can get on a more balanced schedule,’’ Wakefield said. “I’m not using that as an excuse, but I think we could play better. Just right now we’re not playing the best that we can. I think once we get home and get a good homestand under our belt, I think we’ll be OK.’’