Sox thrown off their game
It was a fitting reaction, one that underscored all the frustration the Red Sox felt in a 1-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on a steamy Marathon Monday at Fenway Park.
When Cody Ross stranded a pair of runners with two outs in the ninth, taking a 98-mile-per-hour fastball on a 2-and-2 delivery from Rays closer Fernando Rodney, the Sox outfielder flipped his bat, removed his batting helmet with both hands, and spiked it hard on the plate.
Ross ripped off his batting gloves before having a few words with plate umpire Larry Vanover, who stopped on his way off the field to fire back at Ross.
“Obviously we disagreed, it happens,’’ Ross said calmly afterward in the clubhouse. “He thought they were all strikes and I thought they were all balls. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.’’
It was a frustrating day all around at the Fens, especially for manager Bobby Valentine, who was forced to do some damage control on and off the field after the Sox (4-6) suffered their first home loss of the season when Daniel Bard walked in the winning run with two outs in the seventh.
During a meeting Monday morning in his office, Valentine apologized to Kevin Youkilis after he appeared to question his third baseman’s commitment in a WHDH-TV interview Sunday night. Asked about Youkilis’s slow start (.200 average, eight strikeouts), Valentine said, “I don’t think he’s as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason.’’
Before Monday’s game, Valentine said he told Youkilis, “ ‘The last thing in the world I want you to think is that I’m doing anything to criticize you.’ I was giving an answer to a question and I should’ve been more specific. I don’t know if he accepted my apology, but it was very sincere. I didn’t want him to think that this was anything but an answer to a question that seemed to be jabbing at him.’’
During the game, Valentine found himself in the crosshairs of an angry crowd of 38,108, when he allowed Bard (0-2, 4.63 ERA) to stay in the game for a career-high 111 pitches. With two out in the seventh, Bard walked Carlos Pena on four pitches to load the bases, and after 107 pitches, was allowed to face Evan Longoria following a visit from pitching coach Bob McClure.
“Bob wanted to go out to talk to him just to make sure he saw the right look in his eye,’’ Valentine said. “And he said he was very determined, ‘He wants it.’ ’’
Said Bard, “Mac came out and asked me if I wanted this guy - talking about Longoria - and I said I wanted him. In hindsight, the signs pointed to I was probably getting tired, but in the moment I wanted to be out there.
“On top of that, those were my runs out there and I wanted to be responsible for them. I wanted it and they gave me the chance and so I can’t complain about it.’’
Bard walked Longoria on four pitches - all four-seam fastballs that missed up in the zone - which pushed across Sean Rodriguez with the winning run.
“I just had a sense that he was tired,’’ Longoria said of Bard, who allowed one run on four hits and had a career-high seven walks to go with a career-high seven strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings as he continues the reliever-to-starter transition. “I didn’t even think [Valentine] was going to leave him in for Carlos. I thought he was going to go to the lefty then. And then I was really surprised he left him in for me.
“But it ends up being the difference in the game, and we’ll take that and get out of here with the win.’’
“It was the wrong decision, obviously,’’ Valentine said. “I wanted to let him know that I believed he could work himself out of a jam. He had a couple [jams] during the game and he did a heck of a job.’’
Valentine was booed lustily when he went out to get Bard after summoning Justin Thomas, who got out of the inning by getting Luke Scott to fly to right. “They thought what I thought: I should’ve taken him out earlier,’’ Valentine said. “They’re good fans, they know what’s going on.’’
It enabled the Rays to snap a four-game losing streak, deliver manager Joe Maddon his 500th victory with the club, and make a winner of James Shields (2-0, 3.38 ERA), who threw 8 1/3 shutout innings, allowing four hits to go along with a pair of walks and five strikeouts.
In the ninth, Dustin Pedroia reached on a one-out walk, which prompted Maddon to lift Shields for Rodney. Pedroia advanced to second on Adrian Gonzalez’s hit-and-run groundout to first. After David Ortiz drew an intentional walk, Ross was one swing away from turning the tide of the game, but he never swung because he felt all five pitches he faced were well outside the strike zone.
“Cody’s not swinging at fastballs if they’re not in the strike zone,’’ Valentine said.
Ross said, “I told [Vanover] I felt those weren’t strikes, those were balls, in so many words. It’s too bad that it had to come down the way it did, but it’s baseball.’’
Brightening up, though, Ross added, “The beautiful part about it is that we get to come back tomorrow and try to beat the Rangers.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.