Another day, another 1-run game that got away.
On the one hand, it’s easy to recognize the strain Boston is under, with so many personnel issues hampering the club. On the other, one gets that sense that regardless of what is working against them, the beleaguered Sox must hang tough during this stretch. As I’ve mentioned several times over the past few weeks, winning close games is essential. Right now, the club appears unable to do so.
After dropping the series opener 6-5 on a seventh-inning Rays’ run, Boston fell 3-2 on Tuesday. This despite a good start by Felix Doubront, the rookie making only his second career appearance. Again the bullpen stumbled late– this time, it was Hideki Okajima allowing an eighth-inning run. Okajima, who hasn’t thrown at all in July, was supposed to have been unavailable due to lingering back stiffness. Instead he returned to action and immediately allowed a solo home run to Carl Crawford. That blast would hold up as the game-winner.
Doubront had some control issues and was far from efficient, but he did limit Tampa to 2 runs on 5 hits and 4 walks over 5.2 innings. He struck out 3. The 22 year old pitched around an Evan Longoria double in the first and a walk to Gabe Kapler in the second, but couldn’t escape damage in the third. John Jaso singled and advanced to second on a wild pitch. He scored on an RBI single by Jason Bartlett. 1-0 Tampa.
The Sox struck back in the fourth with a rather lucky run. J.D. Drew reached and moved to second on an error by Longoria, and a Daniel Nava infield single allowed him to score. It was the only time the Sox got to Rays’ starter Jeff Niemann, who went 6 innings allowing just the unearned run on 4 hits and 3 walks. He struck out 5.
Tampa scored again in the fifth courtesy of a Sean Rodriguez triple and an RBI groundout by Jaso. Crawford’s late-game shot made it 3-1. The Sox were held scoreless by the trio of Dan Wheeler, Lance Cormier, and Joaquin Benoit, but did manage to score off of closer Rafael Soriano. Bill Hall drew a leadoff walk and ultimately took second on defensive indifference. Eric Patterson smacked a 2-out triple that made it 3-2, and when Soriano intentionally walked David Ortiz, it appeared that Boston might have a rally in the works. But Niuman Romero, who replaced Kevin Youkilis in the fourth, grounded out to end the inning.
Francona pulled Ortiz off of first in favor of pinch-runner Mike Cameron and allowed Romero to hit for himself, which did raise some eyebrows. The run that Ortiz represented was of secondary concern; Patterson, who could have tied the game, was standing 90 feet away on third base. Had Francona chosen to use Cameron as a pinch-hitter instead of a pinch-runner, might the rally have continued?
Tito defended himself by pointing out that pulling Romero would have left him without a first baseman. Youkilis was out of the game and the other options are all injured. But Francona wasn’t willing to consider the obvious option: Ortiz himself is capable of manning the base. Though he’s no Gold Glove-r, Papi could certainly have stepped in for an inning or 2 had Boston been able to tie things up. Cameron would have stayed in the game to DH.
As Francona pointed out, the move would have emptied the bench, but was that really any riskier than trying to win it with Romero at the plate? There’s no sure answer one way or the other, but once again Francona’s managerial wisdom is being called into question.
As it turns out, Youkilis is fine- he was initially diagnosed with ankle pain, and no doubt gave Terry Francona a series of minor heart attacks before being found healthy. The so-called ankle spasms appear to have been a temporary setback. But the injury did more than remove Youkilis from action. It also took Ortiz’s bat out of the game. Tampa manager Joe Maddon elected to pitch around Ortiz for the remainder of the game, and with no protection around him, Papi was toothless.
The Sox will need to beat David Price to avoid the sweep on Wednesday. Tim Wakefield will be on the mound for Boston.