Commentary

Bad breaks follow Red Sox to Target

Updated: April 13, 2010, 1:24 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- The golden limestone rock that adorns so many walls -- and the dugout roofs -- of the Twins' Target Field are nearly 500 million years old, at least according to information provided by the occupants of the gorgeous new ballpark.

Hearing that, a visitor from Boston is left to imagine how that fun fact would have been challenged by that noted expert on the prehistoric era, Carl Everett, the dinosaur disbeliever.

There should be little argument, though, that more than enough time had passed -- 29 years -- for baseball to be returned to the great outdoors in this land of 10,000 lakes (including Wobegon), a million snowmobiles, 5,270,000 Joe Mauer fans and one mostly despised dome whose most distinctive feature was known, not fondly, as "The Hefty Bag."

But for all the weird things that occurred in the rectangular edifice known as the Metrodome, a place better suited, football coach Mike Ditka once said, for roller skating ("I hate the place,'' Terry Francona said this past weekend), Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester might be inclined to believe, after its inaugural game, that Target Field will offer the Twins the same kind of home-field advantage its indoor predecessor did.

[+] EnlargeTerry Francona
Hannah Foslien /Getty ImagesA puzzling explanation from plate umpire Jeff Nelson on a pickoff play was part of a frustrating day for Red Sox manager Terry Francona.

There might no longer be fly balls clanking off speakers, popups lost in the greasy gray Teflon roof, ground balls taking weird hops on a variety of unreliable rugs and long balls manipulated by air-conditioning vents that seemed to blow favorably for the home team.

But consider what befell Lester on Monday afternoon in a 5-2 loss to the Twins:

  • an RBI line-drive single in the first inning by Jason Kubel that nearly tore the glove off of Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis before finding a final resting place in shallow right field;
  • an infield single by Nick Punto to start the second that glanced sideways off the glove of third baseman Adrian Beltre; Punto would score the Twins' third run when Mauer doubled him home;
  • a two-out ground ball by Mauer in the fourth that scored a direct hit on the second-base bag before trickling into center field for another hit, allowing a fourth Minnesota run to score.
  • "You can look at it either way,'' Lester said. "I didn't execute pitches. Ball that bounces off two gloves and hits a bag. Cost me three runs.

    "You can look at it as bad luck, but I don't really look at it that way. I look at it as not executing my pitches, and I've got to do a better job.''

    Lester's review of his own performance was absent of mercy. "I stunk,'' he said, more than once.

    But his visible reactions to the odd calamities that occurred Monday suggest that he was dismayed by more than a mounting pitch count -- bespeaking his lack of command -- that reached a staggering 107 before he was dismissed after five innings.

    The frustration was apparent to catcher Victor Martinez.

    "I went out there and talked to him,'' Martinez said. "I said, 'Don't let those little things take you out of the game, there's a lot of game left, and just make sure you keep it right there and give us a chance to win the ballgame.'

    "But it's tough, for a pitcher and for a catcher.''

    The Red Sox, history would suggest, are not well-suited for this business of helping a team open a new ballpark. They lost all four previous times they had done so -- the last was in 1923, when they were beaten in the Bronx in Yankee Stadium, aka the House That Ruth Built. They probably should have figured that the outcome would be no better Monday at Target Field, the House That Mauer Built.

    Unlike the Babe, Mauer did not hit a home run in the opener -- the day's only long ball belonged to Kubel, who didn't need the overhang when he buried a pitch from reliever Scott Atchison deep into the right-field porch in the seventh.

    But the Twins' catcher, whose willingness to sign an eight-year, $184 million deal to stay home made him even more beloved than he already was -- he was the top choice in one poll asking Minnesotans whom they would like to have as a guest for Thanksgiving -- had three hits, including two doubles, and drove in two runs. That was enough for Twins starter Carl Pavano, who gave up a run on four hits in six innings and survived a barehanded stab of a Martinez comebacker.

    Mauer had a much better afternoon than his Sox counterpart, Martinez, who went hitless in four trips and saw Twins baserunners be successful in all three of their stolen-base attempts, two by Denard Span. Two of the stolen bases, one by Span, the other by Punto, led to runs.

    So far, baserunners have succeeded in 12 of 13 attempts to steal against Martinez. That's a continuation of a disturbing trend: Martinez threw out only 2 of 19 base stealers after coming to Boston at last season's trade deadline. Francona said the pitchers' times to the plate were better Monday, which was of no noticeable help to Martinez, whose throws were high all day.

    "Obviously, it's teamwork,'' Martinez said. "We just have to do it together. They [the pitchers] have been OK, but I still have to do a little better on that. But I'll take it [the responsibility]. I've always taken it, and I'm going to keep taking it. It's all on me.

    "The only thing I can control is just get the ball and get it out there and make a good throw. Whatever happens after that, happens. I can't control anything else.''

    On Monday, it seemed there wasn't much the Sox could control. In the fifth, Mike Cameron hit a ball down the left-field line that had home run distance, but after reviewing replays, umpires upheld their original call of foul. Cameron wound up whiffing. Later, he hit another ball to the deepest part of center field that was caught. "That's all I've got,'' he said.

    David Ortiz doubled to left-center, sandwiched around two more whiffs, giving him six K's in his past seven at-bats. "Got to keep going, man,'' he said.

    Marco Scutaro, leading off in place of injured Jacoby Ellsbury, singled to start the game but was promptly caught stealing, with Pavano throwing to second to record the out. That brought out Francona, who thought that a pitcher was not allowed to throw to an unoccupied base, so Pavano should have been called for a balk.

    Francona said plate umpire Jeff Nelson agreed with him that it's not in the rulebook, but the umpires' manual allows the pitcher to throw a base ahead. How's that for a head-scratcher?

    Add it all up for the Sox, and it was enough aggravation to fill a Hefty bag.

    Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.

    Gordon Edes

    Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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