|Daniel Bard is portrait in frustration after his throwing error in the seventh. (Yoon S. Byun/ Globe Staff)|
Close the book?
Red Sox swept when they fail in the ninth
The Red Sox are a desperate team and manager Terry Francona is willing to do most anything to make the final weeks of the season relevant.
The alternative is running a glorified tryout camp for young players and watching pending free agents try to burnish their résumés with meaningless statistics.
The chance Francona took yesterday was asking Jonathan Papelbon to get the final five outs to preserve a victory against the Chicago White Sox.
It had been a year since Papelbon was put in that situation. But with setup man Daniel Bard having already been used, Francona went to his closer early in the eighth inning.
Papelbon has had problems getting three outs this season. Five proved impossible as the White Sox scored four runs in the ninth inning to escape Fenway Park with a 7-5 victory.
“We felt pretty good about ourselves and we walk away about an hour later with a loss,’’ Francona said. “Yeah, it hurts.’’
The Sox have lost six of their last eight games and fallen into third place in the American League wild-card race, still 7 1/2 games behind the Rays but now a half-game behind the White Sox.
The White Sox had not swept a series against the Red Sox since 2000 or a series in Boston since 1991.
Tampa Bay arrives at Fenway Park tonight for a three-game set that could determine whether the final weeks of the season have even a faint spark to them for the Sox.
“It doesn’t look good,’’ catcher Victor Martinez said. “This has happened before to us.’’
With the Red Sox up, 4-3, Papelbon left two runners stranded in the eighth inning. The lead grew by a run in the bottom of the inning when Adrian Beltre doubled, took third on a wild pitch, and scored on a ground out by Bill Hall.
But the final three outs were elusive. Papelbon walked Alex Rios with one out. With Andruw Jones up, Rios stole second. Jones struck out and the crowd of 37,570 stood in expectation of a victory.
Disappointment followed. Carlos Quentin hit a blooper into shallow center field. Rookie Ryan Kalish should have played the ball conservatively, but he attempted a diving catch and the ball squirted past him.
Quentin took second base as Papelbon failed to cover the bag.
“He got caught watching. Everybody’s going after it and he needs to get back to second,’’ Francona said. “That ends up being huge.’’
Papelbon disagreed with his manager, saying he thought Quentin would have been safe regardless.
Ramon Castro followed with a single to center, driving in Quentin with the tying run. For Papelbon (5-6), it was his seventh blown save of the season.
“I couldn’t finish the job, basically,’’ he said.
His pitch count mounting, Papelbon walked Alexei Ramirez. Francona finally took him out, Papelbon having thrown a career-high (as a reliever) 48 pitches.
“I think he got a little tired,’’ Martinez said. “You could see it.’’
Lefthander Dustin Richardson was not the answer as he walked lefthanded-hitting Mark Teahen to continue the inning. Another rookie, Robert Manuel, was next out of the bullpen and walked Gordon Beckham to force in the go-ahead run. Beckham fouled off three 3-and-2 fastballs before Manuel missed with another heater.
When Manuel walked Juan Pierre to force in yet another run, fans headed for the exits like they were being chased.
“Just a lack of execution,’’ Manuel said. “You’re supposed to get three strikes and I didn’t do it.’’
Richardson and Manuel never expected they would be in the game. But Papelbon had little sympathy for their plight.
“No, I don’t feel for them,’’ he said. “Their job is to come in and try and get outs like everybody else.’’
The Sox had a 2-1 lead going into the seventh inning before throwing errors by starting pitcher Josh Becket and Bard gave the White Sox two unearned runs. Red Sox pitchers have committed 19 errors this season, the most in the majors.
Beckett allowed nine hits over 6 1/3 innings but only one earned run as he struck out a season-best nine. He took responsibility for not getting through the seventh.
“Bardo’s used to pitching in the eighth. Pap is used to pitching in the ninth,’’ Beckett said. “Pap shouldn’t have to get five outs. If I go out for the seventh, I should finish the seventh.’’
Martinez erased that mistake with a two-run blast over everything in left field off Mark Buehrle. The Sox had a 4-3 lead that Francona handed to Papelbon.
Watching the situation unfold, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen didn’t fault Francona for playing it that way.
“They played to win,’’ he said. “A lot of people say they’re not playing for anything. But you’re not out until you’re out.’’
The way the Red Sox are playing, that will come soon enough.