BOSTON -- Franklin Morales could not escape every pitcher's nightmare.
Ball one. Ball two. Ball three. Ball four. Try fastballs. Miss the strike zone. Try curveballs. Miss the strike zone. Take a deep breath. Miss the strike zone. Have a confidence-building meeting at the mound. Miss the strike zone.
Nothing was working.
The Red Sox left-hander just could not find the strike zone in the pivotal seventh inning as the Los Angeles Angels stretched their lead and ultimately held off Boston 9-5 on Saturday in the first game of a day-night doubleheader at Fenway Park.
Morales walked four in only 2/3 of an inning, including a pair of four-pitch, bases-loaded walks that forced in a couple of runs and helped the Angels blow open the game. And it wasn't as if plate umpire Tim McClelland was squeezing him.
"I try to throw strikes. I was just trying to do my job," said Morales. "I miss a couple of pitches. I couldn't find the zone. I try to throw different pitches. I move on the rubber. Things happen in baseball."
He was pitching for the first time in nine days after making his season debut in a start against the Phillies on May 30. He entered Saturday's game in relief of Felix Doubront, who had gone six solid innings though he left trailing 3-2.
Morales retired the first batter he faced on a hopper to first baseman Mike Napoli. After Mike Trout crushed a double high off the wall in left-center, Josh Hamilton flied out to center. Two outs, a runner on second, still a 3-2 game.
But that's when problems started for Morales and the strike zone. And Boston manager John Farrell unwittingly opened the control-trouble can of worms. He had Morales issue an intentional walk to Albert Pujols.
So Morales threw four wide ones for his first walk of the inning. When Mark Trumbo reached out and slapped an opposite-field roller inside the first-base bag for a one-run double, the plate seemed to shrink on Morales.
He walked Howie Kendrick on a full count, loading the bases. Alberto Callaspo just had to stand in the batter's box to collect an RBI on a four-pitch walk. The crowd of 34,499 was getting antsy, but pitching coach Juan Nieves already had been out to talk to Morales and Clayton Mortensen had just gotten up, so the Sox had no choice but to leave Morales in to face Chris Iannetta.
Ball one. Ball two. Ball three. Ball four. Another walk, another run. A 6-2 Angels lead and Morales finally, mercifully, was lifted by Farrell.
"He lost the strike zone as we got deeper into it," said Farrell. "Ended up being the difference in today's game. Any time you walk that number of guys we're asking for trouble. Benefit of the doubt from him. A number of days before appearances. After [the Pujols walk and Trumbo hit], I think he tried to pitch a little bit careful and missed the strike zone."
Morales didn't use inactivity as an excuse.
"In the bullpen [between assignments], I did a lot of work," said Morales, who spent time on the disabled list the first two months because of back and pectoral muscle issues. "I threw bullpens. I threw on flat ground. I feel good. I try to do the best I can, but I didn't have location."
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia tried everything he could to get Morales back on track. He called for different pitches. He went to the mound.
"When you're missing with the fastball, you try other pitches, but when it got to the bases loaded, you have to bring the best pitch, the fastball. He just missed his spots," said Saltalamacchia, who said he tried to remind Morales to "stay behind the ball and drive it through me" in one of his seventh-inning chats with the hurler.
"He's got great stuff," said Saltalamacchia, "but he's going to go through bad days. Everyone has those days. You don't expect it to happen, but he's human."
If misery loves company, then Andrew Miller's ninth-inning performance might have softened the bad outing for Morales. Miller also walked in a run as part of the Angels' two-run flurry, which helped Los Angeles withstand five consecutive two-out hits in the bottom of the ninth that narrowed the gap and forced manager Mike Scioscia to summon closer Ernesto Frieri for the final out, a whiff of Jacoby Ellsbury with runners at second and third.