Marco Scutaro’s throw sailed into right field. Boston’s playoff hopes may have sailed away with it. Scutaro’s two-base error on a throw to second base in the third inning allowed the winning run to come home in the Baltimore Orioles’ 5-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox. Tuesday night at Camden Yards, the Orioles struck first. In the first inning, Nick Markakis hit a one-out double off Red Sox starter Josh Beckett, who came into the game 4-3 with a 6.50 ERA. In his previous start, Beckett pitched 6.1 innings against the Seattle Mariners, allowing three earned runs while striking out seven in a 5-3 win. Two batters after Markakis’s double, Luke Scott singled to right, driving him home. Beckett escaped further damage in the first inning and then enjoyed a 1-2-3 second.
Beckett’s (and later Scutaro’s) troubles began again in the third. Brian Roberts began the inning with a ten-pitch at-bat that ended in a single. He then took second on a wild pitch and went to third on a ground out. After Beckett walked Scott with two outs, Adam Jones hit a grounder to Scutaro. Scutaro fielded it cleanly, but then double-clutched before throwing to second for the force out. The throw sailed into right field and, by the time it was collected and thrown home, Scott came around to score from second base. The Orioles’ lead now sat at 3-0.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, could do nothing with lefty starter Brian Matusz. Matusz, who came into the game 6-12 with a 4.79 ERA, had won his previous start, giving up just one earned run to the Chicago White Sox in seven innings. The Red Sox , having managed just two hits off Matusz through the first four innings of Tuesday’s game, began to climb back in the fifth inning. Mike Lowell led off with a single. Two batters later, Jed Lowrie took a 3-1 offering to left field. It sailed into the bleachers, and the Red Sox were back to within one run. Unfortunately, that’s as close as they would get. Despite putting lead runners on in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings, the Red Sox would not score again. Their best opportunity came in the seventh, when the had men on first and second base with no one out. Those runners were stranded after advancing exactly one base each.
The Orioles built some breathing room for themselves in the eighth innings. Scott and Felix Pie each homered to right off Felix Doubront, pushing the lead back up to three. It would not prove necessary. Koji Uehara, despite having been used four times since August 21, set down the final five Red Sox batters in order for his fifth save of the season. It was his fifth in ten days, and he needed just 21 pitches (17 of which were strikes) to record the 5-out save. Matusz, who went six innings, allowed two earned runs, and struck out six, picked up his seventh win of the season. Beckett suffered his fourth loss and fell back to .500, despite lowering his ERA to 6.21.
Red Sox at the Plate
The strongest offensive performance of the night came from Jed Lowrie. He went 2-3 for the night with his two-run home run. Lowrie continues to show flashes of brilliance, but what’s holding him back is his inability to stay healthy. He might someday be the starting shortstop for the Boston Red Sox, but he has to stay healthy long enough to prove he deserves the role. Victor Martinez also went 2-4 for the night. Nights like this make us think back to two months ago, and how much offense his injury might have cost us since then. No other player had a particularly strong night, a scattering of 0-4’s, 1-4’s, and 1-3’s. David Ortiz deserves special mention, but not for good reasons. Tuesday night Ortiz went 0-4 with three strikeouts. In his last two games he is 0-8 with 5 strikeouts. He may be feeling like he has to carry the Red Sox offense, and this is causing him to press harder and not see the ball as clearly. Whatever the cause, the Red Sox can ill afford a slump from one of their best hitters.
Red Sox on the Mound
If the team wasn’t struggling so much offensively, Beckett’s performance Tuesday night would’ve been adequate. Seven innings of two earned-run ball is usually enough to cement a win for the Boston Red Sox. Unfortunately, the Red Sox aren’t scoring right now. So Beckett’s performance, while good, just wasn’t good enough. To be a staff ace, you have to be able to pitch beyond your team’s need. Beckett can’t do that this year. He may still be a good pitcher, and he might be better in future seasons (statistically, odd-numbered years are better for Beckett then even-numbered years since joining the Red Sox), but he’s definitely not an ace. Matched up against a third or fourth starter, Beckett can probably be effective enough to earn wins. But against an ace or second starter, given Boston’s current offensive problems, Beckett may not have the stuff this year to win with consistency. Some juggling of the rotation may be necessary. Felix Doubront, meanwhile, has been off-and-on, just as he’s moved up from AAA Pawtucket and back down again. These were actually hist first earned runs allowed in over two weeks. He was on a solid pitching streak that included two saves and a one-point drop in his ERA. With this mis-step, his streak ends. Given a full year in the majors, Doubront will likely prove to be an adequate reliever. Maybe never an elite pitcher, but certainly a solid, contributing member of a winning team’s relief corps. Whether or not that team is the Boston Red Sox remains to be seen.
You can see the looks on the players’ faces and in their reactions. Beckett allowed a two-out single and stormed into the dugout. Lowell struck out with two men on and threw his bat in disgust. Ortiz struck out- again- and walked away shame-faced and angry. The Red Sox are starting to feel that no matter what they do they can’t seem to win. Being professionals, this causes them to try harder, to press themselves, only to walk away with the same lack of success. This is resulting in losses now, but it may add up to wins later. When teams play poorly for a long time, they tend to eventually take their frustrations out on another team. Usually this manifests as a lopsided victory, often times by as many as ten or more runs. With the hitters this team has, that is not beyond the realm of possibility. This frustration can also manifest in a brawl, starting with a lonesome beaning that causes a retaliation. This is soon followed by the team pouring out of the dugout and rushing the mound and/or opposing teammates. With nine games left against the Rays and Yankees, this is also a strong possibility. One way or another, Boston fans should get some fun games sometime soon. They may not add up to a playoff berth, but at least everyone will feel a little better. If only for a bit.