BOSTON -- Let's admit it. No one expected the surging, first-place Red Sox to split a four-game series with the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park in late July.
Boston sent Josh Beckett to the mound in the series finale, but the right-hander struggled with his command in the top of the fourth inning, and Kansas City pushed across four runs (three earned) en route to a 4-3 victory over Boston.
Overall, Beckett allowed four runs on six hits with three walks and eight strikeouts in seven innings of work. He tossed 109 pitches (72 strikes) and dropped his record to 9-4 in 20 starts this season.
"I thought he was in great control," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He was efficient and didn't have a high-pitch inning at all, but the one inning was kind of out of character. It was a 38-pitch inning and he walked two guys in a row, which has probably happened [in the past] but I don't remember it."
If only Beckett could have that fourth inning back, the afternoon would likely have ended differently.
Entering the fourth, Beckett had retired eight of the nine batters he faced, and the Red Sox held a 2-0 lead thanks to a two-run single by Jacoby Ellsbury in the bottom of the third. But Beckett walked consecutive batters before the Royals' Billy Butler provided a three-run homer.
"That's pretty damn frustrating when your team scores two runs and you walk the first two guys," Beckett said. "It's bad, horrible that I walked those two guys."
Kansas City scored another run in the inning to gain a 4-2 lead and that would be enough, as Royals starter Luke Hochevar kept Boston's explosive offense at bay, allowing only two runs on six hits with one walk and six strikeouts.
"It wasn't a bad pitch, it was just a good hitter," Francona said of Butler's homer. "That was enough and they held on. I thought their guy really pitched well. He had come into this game after his last couple [of outings] of not commanding well, and today he threw the ball where he wanted to and when he missed it was down."
On the bright side for the Sox, second baseman Dustin Pedroia extended his hitting streak to 25 games with a solo homer in the bottom of the eighth inning to cut the deficit to one run.
When Pedroia stepped into the batter's box, he was 0-for-2 with a walk, and the 37,822 fans in attendance knew the hitting streak was in jeopardy. The crowd gave Pedroia a roaring ovation and he delivered with his 15th homer of the season, off Royals reliever Greg Holland.
The crowd showed its support once again as Pedroia rounded the bases, and when he returned to the dugout, teammate David Ortiz greeted him with a Big Papi hug.
"I was just trying to get on base. Holland, he's got great stuff, so I'm already at a disadvantage," Pedroia said. "He throws the ball real hard and I was just trying to put together a good at-bat. On 3-2, I was just looking fastball and I hit it on the barrel, so it worked out."
When Francona was asked about the fan support Pedroia received in his efforts to extend the streak, the manager said the Fenway Faithful never surprises him.
"I do think our fans are pretty special," Francona said. "They do react to things like that and that's part of what makes Fenway so great. We don't need to have president races, or mustard racing ketchup. Our fans like our baseball and I really think that's cool -- nothing against mustard."
Pedroia is now hitting .404 (44-for-109) with one triple, nine doubles, nine homers, 19 RBIs, 27 runs and 12 walks since the streak began on June 29. Pedroia has also reached base safely in 37 straight games.
"I feel good every time the guy comes up to the plate right now," Beckett said. "He's hitting over .400 in this hitting streak and a lot of it is damage. It's not like he's getting his infield hit and calling it a day. He's getting a double, a homer or something like that."
Boston almost pulled it out in the bottom of the ninth, when pinch-hitting Carl Crawford hit a bomb that appeared to be a two-run walk-off homer -- but it fell just short of the right-field wall, and Royals outfielder Jeff Francoeur made the catch for the second out. Yamaico Navarro followed and ended the game when he struck out.
When asked if he thought Crawford's ball had a shot of getting out, Francona said he was ready to celebrate.
"Unfortunately I didn't think, I knew, and I'm never like that," he said. "I was getting up to celebrate. I thought he got it plenty, but the wind knocked it down. He took a good swing. He went down and got it and I was all ready to be excited, but it kind of hurts."
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Crawford's ball traveled 371 feet, which would have been a home run in every other major league ballpark.
"Off the bat, I thought I hit it good enough," Crawford said. "I don't know what happened out there. I don't know if it died, or I didn't hit it as hard as I thought I did, or what."
Crawford did not play Wednesday night and was originally given Thursday off, too, due to a strained left elbow. He had struggled in the first two games of the series, going 1-for-11 with six strikeouts. With one out and a runner on first, Francona thought it was the perfect time to give Crawford an opportunity against Kansas City closer Joakim Soria.
"In that situation, you just try to put everything that happened to you in the past and just try to focus on getting a hit or keeping the inning alive, and that's what I was trying to do," Crawford said.
The Red Sox now travel to Chicago for a three-game series against the White Sox. Major League Baseball's trade deadline is Sunday at 4 p.m., so it will be interesting to see if the Red Sox return to Fenway on Monday with any additions or subtractions.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.