By the end of the Angels’ 5-0 victory over the Red Sox, Francona’s stomach — and mood — were soured even more.
It was bad enough that Jon Lester’s postseason scoreless-innings streak against L.A. came to a crashing end, courtesy of a booming three-run homer by Torii Hunter in the fifth inning. What sickened the Red Sox even more were the events that led to that moment, particularly a call in the fourth inning by first-base umpire C.B. Bucknor — one of two calls Bucknor blew on the night.
“Don’t bring up the word, ‘beef,’ please,” Francona said of his run-ins with Bucknor. “I didn’t think he got the call right.”
Bucknor. First base. Never a good combination for the Red Sox in October. The plays at first base were just two-thirds of a trifecta of questionable calls that went against Lester, making the difficult task of containing the Angels' offense all the more daunting.
“I think the whole game was a battle, not just one inning,” said Lester, who lost his second consecutive postseason start. “That’s a good team. They put together some really good at-bats. They hit some pitches I thought I threw well. You have to tip your hat to them.”
Lester went six innings, allowing three runs on four hits with four walks and five strikeouts. A year ago, Lester shut the Angels out over 14 innings in two Division Series starts, and he continued that streak through four innings on Thursday.
But Bucknor and home-plate umpire Joe West made Lester work harder than he needed to.
In third inning, with two on and two out, Lester threw a 2-and-2 pitch to Hunter that appeared to hit the bottom of the strike zone for an inning-ending called strike three. Instead, West called it a ball and Hunter eventually worked a walk, loading the bases.
That forced Lester to make three more high-stakes pitches to Vladimir Guerrero, all swinging strikes to end the inning.
Lester then got the first two batters in the fourth and appeared to have an easy 1-2-3 inning in hand when Alex Gonzalez made a pretty diving stop of a Howie Kendrick shot up the middle. But Gonzalez made a rare off-target throw to the home-plate side of first, forcing Kevin Youkilis to apply a tag to Kendrick’s midsection before Kendrick touched down on the bag.
But Bucknor called Kendrick safe, even though replays clearly showed the tag was applied in time, bringing a weary Francona from the dugout.
“We gave them some extra opportunities,” Francona said.
Lester again got the final out with a strikeout of Jeff Mathis, this time needing six extra pitches. And as he came off the mound, Lester had angry words for West.
Thus, by the time Lester took to the mound for the fifth, his physical and mental state may have been taxed beyond his comfort zone. The last time Lester had barked at a home-plate umpire, it was in the rain at Fenway Park in mid-September, when he had been forced to pitch in a downpour against the Rays and allowed three hits to the only four batters he faced before the game was postponed.
Was Lester distracted in the fifth by previous events? After allowing one hit over the first four innings, Lester gave up three extra-base hits in the fifth, including Hunter’s three-run homer.
“I left the ball up and he hit it,” Lester said. “I thought the thought process behind it was good. I felt like that was the right pitch to throw, trying to get the double play. I left it up a little bit and he hit it out. What can you do?”
But Lester’s frustration was far from over. In the sixth, Kendrick led off with a grounder to third. Again, the throw was off-line. Again, Youkilis recorded the out, confirmed by replay. Again, Bucknor called Kendrick safe.
Lester only needed eight more pitches to end the inning, but he had hit 100, and Francona lifted him in favor of Ramon Ramirez to start the seventh. Ramirez promptly blew up, and the Angels took a 5-0 lead, effectively ending the game.
“It was a tough day,” Francona said.
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