Orioles 4, Red Sox 2

Matsuzaka, Red Sox fall short again

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / September 21, 2010

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The walks killed him, as they always do. Daisuke Matsuzaka issued five walks with two of the runners coming around to score, as the pitcher known for throwing too many pitches and allowing too many free passes continued that trend last night against the Orioles.

Combined with his last two outings, Matsuzaka has 13 walks in his last 16 innings, exactly what a team does not want to see. Yet, that is who Matsuzaka has been over his four seasons in Boston, too willing to give up bases to opponents, too free with his walks. With all those extra chances allowed, Matsuzaka has given up at least four runs in each of his last seven starts and in eight of his last nine, a troubling trend for a team that needed him.

“Walks have a way of coming back to score,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “Not all the time, but even when they don’t, you have to pitch out of the stretch, makes it a lot more difficult inning. They haven’t been squaring up a ton of balls. Giving them bases on balls, it makes it harder.’’

As a result, in a lackluster game with a lackluster performance from their starter, the Sox took one more step toward elimination from the postseason with a 4-2 loss to the Orioles. It left them 8-8 against a team that has lost 90 games this season in front of an announced sellout crowd of 37,560 at Fenway Park. Even acknowledging that the Orioles have played significantly better since the hiring of Buck Showalter as manager, that’s not a positive record for a team that once had postseason aspirations.

“They have a good ball club, obviously their record doesn’t indicate how good they are,’’ said Bill Hall. “They’ve been playing a lot better baseball since Buck got over there.

“They’ve got the talent, and when you’ve got a team with good talent, whether they’re young or old, you’re going to have to play a good ballgame to beat them. Obviously you’ve got to beat them in the smaller parts of the game and put a lot of pressure on them. We didn’t do that today. We haven’t done that against them all year.’’

And that has partly been the fault of Matsuzaka, who has lost twice to Baltimore this season. Despite the walks by Matsuzaka, the Sox managed to stay in the game until the seventh, when the Orioles snapped a 2-2 tie as Daniel Bard allowed two inherited runners to score. Prior to that, Bard had inherited 66 runners and had let just 18 score.

After Matsuzaka walked Brian Roberts and gave up a double to Nick Markakis, that was it for the starter. He left two men in scoring position for Bard with one out, as the Sox brought in the man they believed could provide the necessary strikeout in that situation. But Ty Wigginton hit a sacrifice fly to center field and Luke Scott singled past first base to score a second run. That was all the Orioles would need.

“We had a chance to win, two guys on, one out,’’ said Bard, who said he wasn’t as sharp as usual after a five-day layoff. “My job was to come in and get that out. I wasn’t able to do it. I had a chance, got two strikes with all the guys I faced. Just wasn’t able to finish anybody.’’

Nor was Matsuzaka, who needed saving in the first place. He allowed one run in the first as Roberts singled, moved to second on a walk to Markakis, and scored on Scott’s sacrifice fly. Matsuzaka kept the Orioles off the board until the fourth. Matt Wieters, who walked to start the inning, came home on an error by first baseman Victor Martinez after he fielded a grounder by Cesar Izturis.

“He just let it go a little bit, up and to the right,’’ Francona said of Martinez’s throw to second.

The throw sailed into left field, where Hall nabbed his second outfield assist in two innings, cutting down Felix Pie at third. He later lamented that he didn’t try to throw home, believing he could have gotten Wieters.

The Sox got single runs in the first (Marco Scutaro walk, singles by Darnell McDonald and Martinez) and the sixth (Mike Lowell walk, Jed Lowrie hit by pitch, Hall single), as they took advantage of the free bases given to them by starter Brian Matusz and reliever David Hernandez.

It wasn’t enough, not with what Matsuzaka gave up, not with what Bard couldn’t stop. Asked about his performance and the run of subpar outings, Matsuzaka had few answers.

“The fact we lost the game, that says it all,’’ Matsuzaka said through interpreter Masa Hoshino. “I don’t think it’s any one or two specific reasons, but to be honest I really don’t know.’’

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