Jon Lester gave the Red Sox every chance to win Tuesday night. The defense behind him was sharp. The bullpen was solid. Boston got a rare big hit with a runner in scoring position and made solid contact over and over against Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price.
Yet, even on a night that many of the elements needed to win a ballgame were there, the struggling Sox still found themselves on the short end of things, dropping a 3-2 decision to the Tampa Bay Rays and falling into last place in the American League East.
The setback gave Boston the worst record in baseball all by itself. Frustration has yet to bubble over for a veteran team that knows Tax Day hasn’t even arrived, but the oh-so-close feeling left some of the players wondering when the breaks might come.
“It can’t be like this all season,” said Jon Lester, who pitched a fantastic game opposite Price, but unfortunately had five of the seven hits he allowed come in Tampa Bay’s three-run fifth.
Lester, Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks combined to strike out nine and walk just two. Nine times out of 10, their combined efforts would be enough to get one into the win column. The way the 2011 season is going, the one other time seems to be coming with regularity.
One bit of misfortune, if you will, came when the Rays bunched every big hit into a tiny stretch, including a “swinging bunt” by Sam Fuld with the bases loaded that scored a run just ahead of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez‘s throw home. Johnny Damon then added a two-run single that proved to be the difference in the game.
Other than that, Lester dominated, giving up two singles, two walks and fanning eight in the other six frames.
“Four singles beat me, or whatever it was, five singles,” he said. “I’ll take that every start. If you beat me with singles, I’ll tip my hat.”
The five singles stood up because of the other bad breaks, which came when the Red Sox were at the plate.
Gonzalez, whose play on the Fuld dribbler was perhaps the biggest of the game, followed a Dustin Pedroia leadoff double in the sixth with a screaming line drive up the middle. In a bounce emblematic of the way things are going for the Sox, the ball struck Price in the thigh and caromed directly to second baseman Sean Rodriguez. Gonzalez was out at first while Pedroia moved to third.
Pedroia eventually scored on Jed Lowrie‘s RBI double, but the crooked number that this team needs so badly remained elusive.
“I’m not worried about knocking [Price] out, I’m worried about the bounce the ball takes after he gets hit,” Gonzalez said. “It goes right to the second baseman. If we get first and third no outs, that could be a big inning for us. Instead he gets a lucky bounce.
“The baseball’s just not going our way right now.”
That would happen again in the eighth when Lowrie just missed his third extra-base hit, flying to center with two on and two out to end the team’s last threat. David Ortiz narrowly missed on a long fly to right to end the game.
With the talent in the Boston clubhouse, there is no room for consolation prizes. Almost winning doesn’t mean much. However, when wins are so rare, knowing that they are closer to putting it all together is taken as a positive.
“We’re playing better and we just have to push and find a way to win,” said Jason Varitek.
Lester echoed the call.
“I thought we played really good tonight,” he said. “If our record wasn’t what it is right now, I don’t think too many guys would be worrying about tonight. But obviously we know what we’re up against. We’ve got to keep grinding.
“It’s cliché but it’s the truth. We show up every day, everybody in that clubhouse cares, everybody wants to play hard, everybody wants to do good. We’re trying and it’ll come. It?s obviously not what we wanted now, but there’s too much talent in that clubhouse right now.”