Royals 4, Red Sox 3

Sox bullpen can’t finish off Royals

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / April 10, 2010

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KANSAS CITY — — It was Hideki Okajima on Tuesday. It was Jonathan Papelbon on Wednesday. It was Daniel Bard last night.

With Tim Wakefield going seven sparkling innings — allowing two runs and striking out six — the knuckleballer left it to the bullpen to hold down the Royals for two innings. Once again, the bullpen faltered, as Kansas City took the series opener, 4-3.

Okajima allowed a double to David DeJesus to lead off the eighth inning, then a sacrifice bunt moved DeJesus to third.

Needing a strikeout to preserve a 3-2 lead, manager Terry Francona turned to fireballer Bard, figuring his triple-digit heat is hard to catch up to after watching a knuckleball all evening.

Bard, who has pitched in each of the first four games, walked the first batter, Alberto Callaspo. He struck out Billy Butler, but pinch runner Willie Bloomquist stole second. With two down and men on second and third, Rick Ankiel — who had homered off Wakefield — sent a broken-bat single over shortstop Marco Scutaro, giving the Royals a 4-3 lead. That left the Sox to face Royals closer Joakim Soria, who wouldn’t budge in the ninth.

“Thought I made a decent pitch 2-0, trying to go in with a fastball. It was in,’’ Bard said. “Broke his bat, but it carried over the infielder’s head. That’s baseball.

“They earned the win. They fought and they battled and they scrapped together a couple runs when they needed it. Tip my hat to them in that respect. But obviously wish, when you make a decent pitch, you hope you get a better result. Doesn’t always happen.’’

Three straight losses for the Sox. Three straight losses for the bullpen, the relievers going 13 1/3 innings in the first four games and allowing eight earned runs. To make matters worse, the Sox face reigning American League Cy Young winner Zack Greinke tonight.

“It’s tough,’’ Bard said. “Our starters — Wake did a heck of a job, [John] Lackey did a heck of a job, and we haven’t gotten them wins. I carry a lot of that on my shoulders the last two. Keep trucking. I’m not going to let it affect me too much. I feel like I’m still making pitches. Not going to look at it as any more than that.’’

Of course, the bullpen isn’t the only issue. There’s also an offense that couldn’t extend the lead, despite multiple chances against the Royals’ relievers.

“We didn’t spread it out,’’ Francona said. “We let them hang around, and paid the price for it.’’

Wakefield started 2010 as he had 2009, pitching well at the back of a top-heavy rotation. He was an All-Star last season, then didn’t pitch much in the second half, needing back surgery in the offseason. Then, proclaimed the odd man out among six Sox starters, he demonstrated health, impressive pitching, and won a spot in the rotation — and last night became the oldest pitcher to start a game in Sox history at 43 years, 250 days.

“Really?’’ Francona said before the game. “I hope he’s the oldest to win a game.’’

That didn’t happen. (Though, to be fair, Wakefield needs another couple of months to qualify, as Dennis Eckersley was 43 years, 349 days when he won his final game with the Sox.) Wakefield was impressive, allowing just back-to-back solo homers from Butler (on a fastball) and Ankiel in the sixth.

“I felt like I had good movement on my knuckleball,’’ Wakefield said. “I was throwing a lot of strikes. The only mistake that I really made was the 3-1 fastball to Butler. I meant to throw it away and I threw it right down the middle and he hit a homer. I got beat with a bad pitch.’’

Those six strikeouts he recorded? They were just two fewer than the trio of aces had combined for during their first starts.

“He was terrific,’’ Francona said. “Ball was moving. He had the two pitches that were two quick runs. Other than that, he was really, really good.’’

As catcher Victor Martinez said, “Can’t ask for anything better than that.’’

Wakefield was aided by an excellent defensive play in the fourth. With two down and Jose Guillen on first, Jason Kendall ripped a double over the head of center fielder Mike Cameron. But Cameron tracked it down and threw to relay man Dustin Pedroia, who whipped it to Martinez, who had blocked the plate skillfully. Guillen was out.

The Sox took a 3-0 lead in the fourth. Kevin Youkilis led off with a single and reached third on David Ortiz’s hustle double to left, with the Royals in the typical shift for the designated hitter. Adrian Beltre scored Youkilis with a ground out to second. Then it was J.D. Drew’s turn.

Drew entered with just two hits in 13 at-bats but slammed a pitch 443 feet to straightaway center for a two-run blast off Royals starter Kyle Davies.

“Able to hit it where nobody could catch it,’’ Drew said. “I knew I hit it out when I hit it. Not very many times you hit a ball to center field and you know it’s going to go out.’’

It wasn’t enough, as the Sox didn’t score after that. They were 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position, and are now 7 for 37 this season.

“It’s just four games,’’ Martinez said. “We still have 158. No reason to be worrying about 1-3.’’

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