Poor starting pitching.
This the haunting refrain Red Sox fans have been hearing all season long, and on Monday these struggles cost the team yet again. Of Boston’s 20 losses in 2010, this one might have been the most traumatic.
In his last start, Daisuke Matsuzaka was electric. One point I made during the recap of the game is that he managed to avoid the bad inning– it seems that in most of his outings, Matsuzaka suffers through a damaging frame that often ruins his chances at victory. In that previous start he escaped such a fate, but Monday’s game was a return to form.
At least the Sox didn’t have to wait for it.
Dice-K was terrible early, and the Yankees took full advantage. In the first inning, New York’s first 6 hitters reached base, courtesy of 4 singles, a walk, and a double by Francisco Cervelli. Matsuzaka’s pitches were batting practice; little movement and poor location allowed the Bombers to tee off and post 5 runs. It might have been even worse if not for a throw to the plate by Dustin Pedroia that cut down Robinson Cano as he came in from third. Matsuzaka followed that up by allowing a walk to Brett Gardner and a deep double to Mark Teixeira in the second. By the time they had 6 outs, the Yanks also had 6 runs.
Admittedly, Matsuzaka was let down by some shoddy outfield defense. Both Jeremy Hermida and Darnell McDonald misplayed fly balls that might have been outs. Instead, both bounced harmlessly off of gloves. But those flubs don’t excuse Dice-K’s poor effort.
Boston got a run back in their half of the second off of Yankees’ starter Phil Hughes. Kevin Youkilis singled and advanced to second on a wild pitch. He scored on a single to right by Adrian Beltre. But at 6-1, things looked bleak. Even when David Ortiz blasted a fourth inning solo home run to make it 6-2, there was little cause for optimism.
But then the Sox flashed some of that comeback spirit fans have come to expect in recent years. Just when all seemed hopeless, the team sprang to life.
It happened in the fifth, and came from the top of the order when Marco Scutaro lined a 2-out single into center. Dustin Pedroia then raked a double to left field, and that quickly the Sox had 2 men in scoring position. Apparently that wasn’t enough for J.D. Drew, who decided to drive himself in as well. His shot to the right field stands made it a 6-5 game and effectively ended Hughes’ night. The Yankee pitcher’s line closed at 5 innings, 5 runs on 6 hits and 1 walk, and 3 strikeouts.
Matsuzaka couldn’t hold the 1-run deficit, surrendering a single to Cervelli and and RBI double to Marcus Thames that pushed New York’s lead to 7-5. Tim Wakefield then came on in relief, closing Dice-K’s ugly line at 4.2 innings, 7 runs on 9 hits and 3 walks, and 3 strikeouts. His ERA now stands at 7.89.
Victor Martinez homered off of Yankee reliever Boone Logan in the sixth, and the 7-6 scored lasted until the top of the eighth.
That’s when things got really interesting.
Drew singled to open the frame, and scored on a 2-run jack by Kevin Youkilis that gave Boston its first lead of the night. Martinez followed that with a solo shot, his second of the game. The back-to-back homers were a reversal of fortune; in a game that was thoroughly under New York’s control, the Sox had fought all the way back to take a 9-7 lead.
And with Wakefield and Daniel Bard combining to throw 3.1 scoreless innings, the game stayed that way until the bottom of th ninth.
Enter Jonathan Papelbon. Normally reliable.
Brett Gardner smashed a leadoff double and advanced to third on a Teixeira fly out. Since his run didn’t matter much, Papelbon went after Alex Rodriguez…and lost. A-Rod’s gargantuan home run to center tied the game at 9-9, earning Paps his first blown save since July 28th of last year. In between had come 22 successful conversions, but those were quickly forgotten in the wake of the blown lead.
And New York wasn’t done.
Uncharacteristically wild, Papelbon hit Cervelli 2 batters later, bringing Marcus Thames to the plate. And though it wasn’t the monster that A-Rod’s blast was, his 2-run homer was far more damaging. For the first time in his career, Papelbon had surrendered 4 earned runs in a single relief appearance, and New York walked off with the 11-9 victory.
Poor starting pitching.
The defeat was especially bitter in light of Boston’s comeback and overall offensive showing. 5 homers by Papi, Drew, Ortiz, and Martinez…all wasted. 9 runs on 13 hits…insufficient. With the inconsistency they’ve had at the plate this year, the Red Sox cannot afford to mishandle such opportunities.
The loss dropped Boston 8.5 games out of first and 6.5 behind New York. It also dropped the Sox back below .500. The comeback-turned-walkoff loss makes Tuesday’s game as close to a must-win as we can have in May. Josh Beckett and his healed back will take on C.C. Sabathia.