Sox falter vs. Royals once again
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The Red Sox firmly believed that Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Clay Buchholz would be among the best starting pitchers in the American League this season.
General manager Ben Cherington did not avidly pursue other starters during the offseason, electing to fill the gaps in the rotation with converted relief pitchers and bargain-rate veterans.
Thirty games into the season, the notion that Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz could carry a heavy load is proving shockingly incorrect.
Undone by poor outfield defense, Lester was able to go only five innings against the Kansas City Royals Wednesday night as the Red Sox were beaten again, 4-3.
The Sox got to 10-10 on April 28 and appeared to have righted themselves after a slow start. They have lost eight of 10 games since.
Now the frustration over what is shaping up as a third straight season out of the playoffs is starting to show.
“It [stinks],’’ Lester said. “Hell, nobody in this clubhouse came to this team, whether they were a free agent or got called up from this team or whatever, expecting to lose. Everybody in this clubhouse wants to win, everybody tries . . . We’re just not doing it, plain and simple.
“It’s a cliché and it [stinks] to hear, but we need to keep showing up and keep grinding.’’
Manager Bobby Valentine, who appears to have aged 10 years in the last month, had a profanity-laced rant after the game regarding plate umpire Jeff Nelson and a call in the ninth inning.
With two runners on and no outs against Royals closer Jonathan Broxton, Valentine wanted Marlon Byrd to bunt. Byrd pulled back from the first pitch, an inside fastball, and the ball appeared to strike him on the hand. Nelson called it a foul ball.
Byrd eventually got the bunt down but Valentine was still angry afterward.
“[Expletive] umpire can’t make the right call and get help? It’s a damn shame is what it is,’’ he said. “Be stubborn. It’s not his job to call the freaking play. Just get help.’’
Nelson told a pool reporter that he didn’t need assistance.
“We usually don’t ask about a ball hitting a guy’s hand based on an umpire that’s 100 feet away,’’ Nelson said. “You go on the best information that you have and also, if the batter had been offering at the pitch and the pitch had hit his hand, the result would be a strike and a dead ball. But my ruling was a foul ball.’’
Ryan Sweeney then saw 10 pitches from Broxton before lining a slider to left field. Gold Glover Alex Gordon made a sliding catch and pinch runner Darnell McDonald stayed at third, held by coach Jerry Royster.
“Guess it was too shallow or something,’’ Valentine said. “Jerry had a good look at it.’’
Mike Aviles then grounded to shortstop to end the game.
Lester (1-3) allowed only one earned run but was finished after five innings and 108 pitches against a team he usually dominates.
“Too many pitches,’’ Lester said. “That was the theme throughout the game, too many pitches.’’
The Red Sox are 2-5 in games Lester has started and 7-11 with their not-so-big three on the mound. Lester was 5-1 with a 1.30 earned run average in seven career starts against the Royals entering the game.
Lester retired the first two batters he faced then walked Billy Butler before allowing a single to left by Jeff Francoeur.
Johnny Giavotella, who was called up from Triple A Omaha before the game, followed with a line drive to center field. It should have been the third out. But Byrd broke in and when he reached back, the ball deflected off his glove.
Butler scored and Francoeur went to third. The next batter, Brayan Pena, hit the ball deep into the gap in left field. Cody Ross went a long way and caught up to the ball.
He caught it, ran two steps, then lost it up against the wall, shoveling it forward as his arm swung.
“I thought I caught the ball, took a couple of good steps, and went to go brace myself against the chain-link fence and the ball kind of came out,’’ Ross said. “I didn’t think anything of it.’’
Third base umpire Chris Guccione ruled that Ross had not caught the ball and two runs scored. Valentine argued the call, prompting the umpires to huddle. But the call stood.
According to the rule book, “In establishing the validity of the catch, the fielder shall hold the ball long enough to prove that he has complete control of the ball and that his release of the ball is voluntary and intentional.’’
Valentine later said the call was correct.
The Royals took a 4-3 lead in the fourth inning as rookie Irving Falu and No. 9 hitter Alcides Escobar doubled. Of the six hits Lester allowed, four were doubles.
Kansas City starter Bruce Chen allowed 12 runs on 15 hits over 9 1/3 innings in his previous two starts and was winless in six starts this season. But he went 6 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on seven hits with five strikeouts and no walks.
The Sox scored all three of their runs in the third inning. Byrd and Sweeney led off with singles. Dustin Pedroia then singled with one out, dropping a ball down the right field line to load the bases.
David Ortiz struck out but Adrian Gonzalez ripped and 3-and-2 pitch to the gap in right field for a three-run double.
The Sox didn’t score again and Valentine was again left only with laments.
“Guys battled their butts off, that’s all I know,’’ he said. “That’s a damn shame.’’