X’d out by O’s
Lowly Baltimore sweeps the scuffling Red Sox
BALTIMORE — They walked off the field, heads down, eyes hidden by the brims of their caps. The dugout swallowed them as they headed to pack their suitcases for a return to Boston. It was not how Red Sox wanted to end their weekend, with the Orioles spilling out of their dugout to celebrate a walk-off, 10th inning win, and a new low in a season full of them.
Nor is there anything to look forward to, once they get home, where they will face the Angels and the Yankees after having lost their latest chance to turn their early season around against baseball’s worst team.
“It doesn’t get any easier,’’ Dustin Pedroia said. “Everyone thought Baltimore was three easy wins, and we got our [behinds] kicked three times.’’
There was the feeling they could have won all three games (going to extra innings in two and carrying a three-run lead in the other). They didn’t, with the sweep culminating yesterday with a 3-2 loss on Ty Wigginton’s double.
“We’re making it pretty tough on ourselves,’’ Pedroia said. “Tight games and we’re not finding a way to win them. It’s tougher now. We’re fighting. We’re just not wining games. It’s tough. It’s frustrating. I think everyone’s frustrated. There’s a lot of guys that have been here [and] we’re not used to this. We’ll grind it out, but we’ve got to find a way to start winning some games.’’
It was the hanging slider that did it yesterday, with Wigginton lashing it beyond the grasp of Darnell McDonald in center field, making the Sox 1-5 in their six extra-inning games. That delivered Nick Markakis from second, though the reason they lost was how Markakis reached. With Jonathan Papelbon on for his second inning of work — manager Terry Francona make the rare decision to pitch his closer in a tied game on the road — Markakis drew a leadoff walk, a cardinal sin.
To keep Markakis close, Papelbon tossed over a pickoff attempt, a dangerous prospect already with Mike Lowell making his major league debut at first base. Ultimately that didn’t matter. Lowell came nowhere close to making the grab, as the ball flew past him and into the stands. Markakis moved up.
“I just didn’t get my hips around,’’ Papelbon said. “I just rushed it a little bit.’’
Wigginton then crushed that slider, bringing the Sox to 11-14 on the season. It also marked a troubling trend regarding Papelbon. Having given up two doubles and a walk yesterday, the closer’s WHIP now stands at 1.38, far higher than his career worst as a reliever, last season’s 1.15. He has allowed nine hits, nine walks, and recorded nine strikeouts in 13 innings.
“This game is going to test you, it’s going to test every last bit of your will and fortitude,’’ Papelbon said. “I think that’s what’s happening right now for our team, and for individuals.’’
But the Sox had a chance to win, after Josh Beckett graced them with a rebound performance. The score was 2-2 in the top of the eighth . when Jason Varitek led off with a walk. He moved to second on McDonald’s sacrifice bunt. Then, with Varitek standing on second with two outs, Pedroia lined a single to left.
Nolan Reimold’s throw was strong and accurate, collected by catcher Craig Tatum while Varitek was still perhaps 10 feet from the plate. The slow-footed catcher eased up as he neared the plate, choosing to go in standing up instead of trying to take out the catcher. Not that he had a chance.
Reimold had gloved Pedroia’s hit before Varitek had even reached third base, but coach Tim Bogar sent him home. Had he held Varitek, it would have been bases loaded, two outs, for J.D. Drew, whose solo home run had tied the game. Instead, the Sox went for it, and ended the inning with an out at the plate.
“I actually wasn’t running fast enough to get there,’’ Varitek said. “I gave it what I had. I was thrown out by quite a lot. I had a good turn, good jump, but the wheels weren’t quite moving. We’re a team around here. You’re not going to second-guess a coach’s wave or anything like that. The fact is that I wasn’t fast enough to score.’’
He added, “I didn’t think I had enough steam that if I tried to run him over I had anything to put into it.’’
It was a choice supported by Francona, who said, “I would have too. You’re hoping for a bad throw.’’
But that was preceded by a curious decision. With just one player left on his bench in Bill Hall — with Jeremy Hermida and Kevin Youkilis unavailable — Francona didn’t use Hall as a pinch hitter, even though the manager would need to bring in Hall as the left fielder after the inning.
Would Hall have scored? The Sox will never know.
“In a tie game, the way the game was going, I wanted to leave Tek catching,’’ Francona said. “I knew there was certainly a possibility. I thought that was our best chance.’’
It was. After Daniel Bard got out of a messy eighth, the game remained tied. There was a leadoff single in the ninth. There was a one-out single and walk in the 10th. There was also, ultimately, nothing to show for it. The Sox finished their road trip 3-3, going from the upswing of a sweep over Toronto to the downswing of a sweep by Baltimore. And there is no relief on the horizon.
“Every game’s important right now,’’ Pedroia said. “We need to find a way to win. We think we have the talent to do that. We’ve just got to go do it. We’ve got to start over. When we get home, new season, and go play. The way we’ve been playing is really not encouraging for everybody.’’
There was still hope, though. Faith remains in the Red Sox.
“We’re better than our record,’’ Varitek said. “And we will be better.’’