That was basically the only good thing the Boston Red Sox did on the mound all night.
The Detroit Tigers clubbed 14 hits off Josh Beckett and two relievers Thursday, beating the Red Sox, 7-3, and avoiding the sweep. The Red Sox remain in last place in the AL East, a game behind the Toronto Blue Jays, whom they’ll play on the road this weekend.
Flat Beckett Can’t Hold the Lead
Though Beckett pitched an eight-pitch, 1-2-3 first, his struggles began an inning later, with back-to-back one-out hits putting Tigers on second and third. Beckett got out of the second thanks to Ryan Sweeney, who covered a fair amount of ground to catch Jhonny Peralta‘s fly ball near Pesky’s Pole. Sweeney then threw a perfect one-hopper to Jarrod Saltamacchia, gunning down Delmon Young (3-5) at the plate to end the threat.
Saltalamacchia and Sweeney helped give Beckett a two-run lead in the bottom of the second, with Saltamacchia homering to center to lead off the inning. Sweeney then singled and scored from first on a double to the center field warning track by Scott Podsednik, who’s batting .444 in 12 games this season.
But Beckett immediately coughed up the lead, allowing three runs in the top of the third. Center fielder Quintin Berry (3-5) put the Tigers on the board with an RBI single with two men on, and Brennan Boesch tied the game with a sacrifice fly. Berry then stole second and went to third on a flyout, and Prince Fielder (2-4) singled to center to put the Tigers up 3-2.
Saltalacchia bailed out Beckett in the bottom of the third, following up a Kevin Youkilis double with a game-tying single, but Beckett just couldn’t regain the sharpness his pitches had in the first inning. Berry reached on an infield single to start the fifth, went to third on a stolen base and throwing error by Saltalamacchia, then scored on a single by Miguel Cabrera (2-5) to put the Tigers back up 4-3.
Beckett’s pitches looked very flat Thursday. His off-speed pitches barely moved within the strike zone, instead just hanging over the plate, almost begging to be hit. A 1-2-3 sixth helped Beckett last through the seventh inning, but he gave up a season-high 10 hits. He struck out just one for the first time since a 12-2 win over the Rays on April 13, inducing just seven swing-and-misses in 102 pitches.
The Tigers’ 4-3 lead proved to be enough for starter Max Scherzer and three relievers. Tigers pitching retired 15 of their final 16 batters faced, allowing just a lead-off walk to Nick Punto in the seventh. Daniel Nava nearly scored Punto from second to tie the game, but Berry backed up his outstanding hitting with outstanding defense, leaping against the center field wall to rob Nava of at least an RBI double.
Scherzer picked up the win, improving to 5-3 and beating the Red Sox for the first time. Beckett fell to 4-5.
Bullpen Struggles Behind Beckett
Besides Albers’ perfect third of an inning, Boston’s bullpen did little to help Beckett out. Franklin Morales pitched the eighth, serving up a towering solo home run off the Sports Authority sign to Young for a 5-3 Detroit lead. Morales then gave up back-to-back two-out walks, but Albers saved him.
No such savior came for Rich Hill, who let the game slip away for good in the top of the ninth. Though Hill got the first two outs easily enough, he allowed a two-out single to Cabrera, who reached third on another stolen base/E-2 combination. Cabrera then scored on the oh-so-rare triple by Fielder, and Fielder came home on a single by Young for the 7-3 lead.
Boston’s bullpen struggles turned out to be inconsequential, as Detroit’s bullpen combined for three perfect innings. But against a worse bullpen – such as 26th-ranked Toronto’s – a one- or two-run deficit can easily be overcome by Boston’s powerful lineup.
But when their bullpen turns a run-one game into a four-run game late, even the best offenses will have a hard time mounting a comeback.