Rockies 2, Red Sox 1

Red Sox can’t mount much offense in loss

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / June 23, 2010

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DENVER — Sitting alone at the table in the middle of the visitor’s clubhouse, Mike Lowell put his hands to his face. His head dropped for a moment, his open palms supporting it, the plate of food in front of him forgotten for a second. There was unhappiness, disappointment. There was discomfort at a situation that led to what happened last night — a futile pinch hit attempt, a missed chance in a season that has had far too few chances for his liking.

Lowell’s scorched ground ball to short with two outs in the ninth was nabbed by Clint Barmes, Lowell seemingly running in slow motion before being thrown out. A run was in (Adrian Beltre double, Mike Cameron single), a runner was on first, and the Sox were down by a run. When Lowell made the final out, Boston’s 2-1 loss to the Rockies was complete.

Asked how difficult it was to head to the plate for just his 13th at-bat in June, Lowell said, “It’s not tough at all. It’s par for the course.’’

Asked if he was surprised that Barmes made the play, Lowell said, “Not at all. I’m slow. He could even get up. He has all the time in the world.’’

Asked if he felt OK running, Lowell, returning to Coors Field for the first time since he was Most Valuable Player of the 2007 World Series, said, “I feel great.’’

“I don’t think pinch hitting’s probably the easiest thing,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “It was a good swing. Pretty nice play.’’

It was painful and uncharacteristic, with Lowell’s usually longer answers cut into snippets. And yet, this loss — ending the Red Sox’ six game winning streak — hardly could be pinned on him. The Sox had multiple chances, leaving the bases loaded, several times, as an excellent start from Jon Lester was wasted.

And now the Sox must face Ubaldo Jimenez tonight, a starter reaching for numbers rivaling the best seasons ever in baseball. Last night they faced a starter with a 4.00 ERA and more losses than wins, and yet the formerly red-hot Sox could barely get anything started. And when they did, with a meager four hits off Jhoulys Chacin, they couldn’t quite make them count.

“We had a couple opportunities,’’ Francona said. “Looked like their guy, when he was struggling with his command, we just couldn’t make him pay for it. Made some pitches when he needed to, and kept us off the scoreboard.’’

In fact, the Sox got more help from Chacin (five walks) then they generated themselves, and still couldn’t come through, leaving the bases loaded in two innings. It was the second time they did that, though, when hearts raced on both sides, and it had seemed primed for David Ortiz to generate another David Ortiz moment.

Chacin finally had exited with two down in the seventh, having walked two to help the Sox fill the bases. Lester had just been pinch hit for by Ortiz, and the Rockies made the counter-move with Joe Beimel entering the game.

But Ortiz grounded weakly to second and the inning was over. The Sox hadn’t scored yet again.

“He pitched outstanding,’’ Lowell said of Lester, finally expanding during one answer. “I think that’s kind of the National League game biting you a little. He still had pitches, but I still take my chances with David there, bases loaded. I think it’s the move you’ve got to make. It’s the nature of the beast.’’

In the eighth, Hideki Okajima allowed three straight singles to Todd Helton, Carlos Gonzalez, and Ryan Spilborghs with one out, the last jumping just over the glove of shortstop Marco Scutaro to send Helton home. That was one run the Sox couldn’t afford, though it was impossible to fault Scutaro.

“It looked like a nice ball that we’re going to get out of the inning and it bounces over his head,’’ Francona said. “Not much you can do about it.’’

Added Scutaro, “It was a double-play ball, but you saw what happened. I don’t really have an answer for those kind of ground balls.’’

The Sox got the run in the ninth, but it wasn’t enough. Boston had had a golden chance in the third. Cameron began the inning by singling to left field, but was out stealing. Josh Reddick welcomed himself back to the big leagues with a single, and Lester bunted him over. Then Chacin lost the strike zone, walking Scutaro and Dustin Pedroia.

The bases were loaded for Victor Martinez, the on-fire catcher who is batting .383 this month. It was the perfect chance — except Martinez grounded to second to end the inning.

“He put up a lot of zeros,’’ Francona said of Chacin, whom none of his hitters had seen before. “His stuff, late action, breaking ball good. We had a couple chances to hurt him and we didn’t.’’

Lester didn’t allow much more, giving up just six hits and a walk, striking out six. He allowed a run in the fifth, the inning beginning with the first hit of Chris Nelson’s major league career, a single up the middle. That was followed by a walk to Barmes, bringing up Chacin.

The pitcher fouled off three attempts at a bunt, striking out. The slumping Helton came up with men on first and second and two outs and singled to right, sending Nelson home. That, plus their eighth-inning tack-on run, was all they would need.

“It was a tough one to lose,’’ Lester said. “The guy outpitched me. I really had a lot going. I was able to locate on both sides of the plate. Gave up six singles, probably one of them was hit hard. It was just their night.’’

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