Sloppy plays add up to Sox loss
In a strange game, Boston's pitching, hitting, fielding all fell short against Padres
BOSTON -- Some nights, you just aren't going to win a ballgame.
Tuesday was one of those nights for the red-hot Boston Red Sox, who lost 5-4 to the lowly San Diego Padres before 38,422 fans, the largest crowd at Fenway Park since World War II, in a game that had a little of everything -- and not much of it good from the home team's standpoint.
It's hard to win a game when your starting pitcher walks five batters in a row, which is what spot starter Alfredo Aceves did in a frustrating, bad Little-League-esque, second-inning sequence.
It's hard to win a game when you strand 11 baserunners, seven in scoring position, even when lumbering David Ortiz successfully completes a stutter-step stolen base, the first time he has swiped a base since Aug. 3, 2008.
And then there were the unusual double plays the Red Sox hit into -- 1-5-6 and 5-6-3, if you're scoring at home. Throw in four strikeouts in which Padres catcher Nick Hundley had to retrieve an errant third strike and make the throw to first base, and you have the tenor of the night.
Former Sox prospect Anthony Rizzo, who had been part of the trade that brought Adrian Gonzalez to Boston last winter, got credit for the game-winning RBI when his broken-bat, bases-loaded grounder snapped a 4-all tie in the seventh.
Despite all that, Boston had one last chance to at least tie when Kevin Youkilis -- who went 4-for-5, tying a career high for hits -- led off the ninth with a single to left off San Diego closer Heath Bell. But that's when Ortiz rapped into the 5-6-3 double play into the Padres' shift, and when J.D. Drew waved and missed strike three, ending this torturously long (3 hours, 42 minutes) and sloppy game.
Of course, when you're as hot as the Red Sox have been, winners of 14 of their previous 16 games heading into Tuesday night's contest, maybe the law of averages found a way to sneak into Fenway for a night.
In any event, the best place to start with this one is with the starting pitcher, Aceves.
The right-hander, called on to fill in for Josh Beckett (stomach illness), suddenly lost all contact with home plate in the second inning after retiring the first two batters on seven pitches. At one point, Aceves threw 11 straight pitches for balls, and he was by no means being squeezed by plate umpire Brian O'Nora. Boston pitching coach Curt Young visited the mound during the meltdown and advised Aceves to pitch from the windup instead of the stretch. That didn't help. He walked two more batters.
The five consecutive free passes gift-wrapped two runs and a 2-1 lead for the Padres. Michael Bowden was warming up, but manager Terry Francona kept hoping Aceves would find the target. Eventually Aceves got out of the inning.
"He just lost command," Francona said. "Normally after a hitter or two, you can reel it back in, but he just couldn't find it. His stuff was good but he just lost the plate, and it hurt. It was not a pretty inning, but there were not a lot of runs on the board.
"There was a lot of frustration in the dugout, but you go out there and get him in the second inning and you go right through your bullpen, which you don't want to do," Francona added.
Aceves, who has been pitching professionally since 2001, said this had never happened to him before.
"I was trying to keep the ball down," he said. "It happens. I tried to continue to hit my spots. The glove and the ball, try to hit the glove with the ball. It was not my best."
He said he was just as frustrated as anyone watching the game.
"I tried to adjust my body to throw the ball [for strikes]. [I asked myself], 'Why am I throwing high? Why am I throwing them away?' You have to focus and adjust," he said.
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia tried all he could to get Aceves back in the groove, calling every type of pitch he throws. But it just wasn't happening.
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"We just had some control issues," Saltalamacchia said. "I think his arm slot kind of dropped a little bit. It's tough when you lose the feel like that. You just try to slow it down, get him on track the best way you can. You've just got to battle through it, and that's what he did."
Well, he threw more strikes in the third, but he was tagged for three hits and a pair of runs, putting San Diego on top 4-1. Aceves settled down and pitched well in the fourth and fifth innings, but after 99 pitches, he was done.
Dan Wheeler worked a spotless sixth but left Daniel Bard with a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the seventh after the Sox had chipped away and pulled even at 4-all. Bard's first batter was Rizzo, who shattered his bat on his bouncer to Gonzalez wide of first base. Gonzalez tried to field the ball, spin around and throw home but lost the handle on the ball. The Sox got Rizzo out at first but Chase Headley scored, giving the Padres a 5-4 advantage, which the bullpen held.
"It's a do-or-die situation," Gonzalez said of his attempt. "You try to be as fast as possible. That's why I mishandled it. We got the out. If I [throw] to the plate there, I don't know if I get him anyway."
For comic relief in an otherwise forgettable game, there was Ortiz's romp on the basepaths. Ortiz was on first with one out in the fifth. San Diego starter Mat Latos wasn't paying much attention to him, so Ortiz took off for second. The problem was that Latos still had the ball, in his set position on the pitching rubber.
Ortiz started to run. He was at least one-third of the way toward second, and then he froze for a moment as Latos' teammates yelled for him to step off the rubber and nail Ortiz, who was in no-man's land between the bases.
But Latos threw to the plate, so Ortiz restarted his 6-foot-4, 230-pound body and beat Hundley's throw to second for his 11th career stolen base.
Naturally, he was asked about the play after the game.
"Don't ask me about that. I just went," Ortiz said. "Things happen. Enjoy it. You're not going to see many."
And Sox fans can only hope they won't see many more games like the one Boston played Monday night.
Steven Krasner is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.