When nothing is going right, nothing is going right. Such was the case Thursday night at Fenway, when a freakish broken-bat grounder led to four runs by the Tampa Bay Rays, who homered three times to beat the Red Sox, 9-2, and cut Boston’s wild card lead to three games.
Broken Bat Ends Up Breaking Weiland
Through two innings, starter Kyle Weiland appeared on his way to at least the first quality start for the Red Sox since Sept. 6, and possibly his first major league win. Weiland retired his first seven batters before giving up a double to catcher John Jaso. Weiland walked Desmond Jennings with two outs, but his inside pitch to B.J. Upton broke Upton’s bat and started rolling towards Marco Scutaro.
The broken bat-head flew in the exact same direction as the grounder, unfortunately, landing in front of Scutaro moments before the ball reached his glove. Scutaro tried to side-step the bat and field the ball, but the two arrived so close that there was nothing Scutaro could do. The ball rolled between his legs, and Jaso scored to give the Rays a 1-0 lead.
Weiland should have been out of the inning, but instead he had to face Evan Longoria. Though Weiland reached two strikes on Longoria, he left a 1-2 pitch over the plate, and Longoria deposited it in the Red Sox bullpen in right-center to make it a 4-0 game.
Terry Francona lifted Weiland with none out and two men on in the fourth despite Weiland’s low pitch count of 61. The move paid off at first, with newcomer Trever Miller retiring all three batters he faced. Miller was aided by Adrian Gonzalez, who with one out and Johnny Damon on third charged a bunt by Jaso and quickly shuffle-flipped to Jarrod Saltalamacchia to nail Damon at home.
Francona tried Matt Albers in the seventh, but that only made matters worse. Albers walked Jennings to start the game, then gave up a two-run home run to Upton that once again landed in the Red Sox bullpen. Albers left after walking Ben Zobrist with one out, but replacement Andrew Miller gave up two singles, including an RBI single to Kotchman that made it 9-1 Rays. Miller did strike out four in 1 2/3 innings Thursday – more than the combined total for the six other Red Sox pitchers used.
It’s unclear why Francona would overtax an already exhausted bullpen when the starter could have easily gone at least two more innings. Weiland is a very young pitcher, still with hundreds of innings left in his tank. Boston’s bullpen, meanwhile, has almost completely dissolved.
Francona is delusional if he believes his team has a better chance to win when he uses the bullpen more. The only way to restrengthen the bullpen is to use starters more. Even if they don’t seem capable of handling the extra innings, pulling starters early has an even lower likelihood of success.
Hellickson Shuts Down Red Sox Again
Once again phenomenal pitching by the Rays completely stifled the Red Sox offense. Starter Jeremy Hellickson held the Red Sox to just three hits over 5 1/3 innings, and three Rays relievers allowed just one hit over the next 2 2/3.
Boston’s best scoring opportunity came in the bottom of the third, when two walks sandwiched around a Scutaro (2-for-3) single loaded the bases with one out. Hellickson then got Gonzalez to ground weakly to first base, and Saltalamacchia scored from third on the ground out. Considering Gonzalez had tripled and homered off Hellickson in six previous at-bats, the Rays were happy to trade a run for the second out.
Kevin Youkilis worked the count full but then grounded out to third to leave the bases loaded.
With the scoring chance wasted, much of the life went out of the Red Sox, and they went 1-2-3 in both the fourth and the fifth. Boston struggled all night with Hellickson’s changeup, never figuring out the timing necessary to drive it. Though 27 foul balls kept Hellickson from finishing the sixth, it didn’t matter: Jake McGee retired Crawford one on pitch to strand two Red Sox.