Friday, May 4, 2012
In search of friendly Fenway
By Steven Krasner ESPNBoston.com
BOSTON -- In seasons past, the Boston Red Sox have been one of the toughest teams to beat at home.
Not this year. Not so far, anyway.
Boston's 6-4 loss in 13 innings to the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on Friday night marked the team's third straight setback at home. And the poor results at Fenway go back further, to the first homestand, when the Sox lost five straight games.
So the Red Sox have lost eight of their last nine games at supposedly Friendly Fenway, hardly a pace that is conducive to challenging for a playoff spot. It's early in the season, no doubt, but it's still a disturbing trend.
"In order to have a good season you have to play well at home," said Red Sox outfielder Cody Ross. "For whatever reason we haven't. That's tough."
Alfredo Aceves was dominant in relief, whiffing six of the 10 batters he faced in his 2 2/3 innings.
"We need to figure out how (to win games at home) because we haven't been playing well," added second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "Tonight we couldn't find a way to score runs when we needed to."
What's most mystifying is that the Red Sox returned to Fenway after a highly successful road trip. Boston won its first six games away from home before dropping the finale. But whatever momentum the Red Sox may have found on the road has not made it to Fenway.
Boston won its first game of the homestand, beating Oakland, but lost the next two to the Athletics. Then, after an off day, the Sox fell again Friday night, to the Orioles, keeping Boston in last place in the American League East and dropping it to seven games out of first place only 25 games into the season.
Manager Bobby Valentine wasn't buying the theory that the Sox play better on the road.
"I don't believe in that nonsense," he said. "There has been some pretty good pitching against us. We're playing good baseball, but we're not getting the big hits."
Sometimes the difference between winning and losing is just one big hit. And when things aren't going your way, even when the ball is hit hard it doesn't always find a hole.
A case in point came Friday night in the eighth inning after David Ortiz had drawn a leadoff walk in the 4-4 game.
Ross then scorched a liner that seemed headed into the outfield. Ortiz thought the ball was going through, and he wasn't the only one. But Baltimore shortstop J.J. Hardy made a sensational catch of the ball and, from his knees, managed to get enough steam on his throw to first base to double off Ortiz. Instead of two on and none out in a tie game, the Sox had no one on and two outs.
"I'd say that was the big play of the game" said Valentine. "A terrific play. It looked like the ball was by him."
"I did (think it was a hit)," said Ross. "To me, that was the game. David goes from first to third and it could have been a double if that ball got in the gap. J.J. made a great play. That's a tough loss."
It's not as if there weren't a few bright spots. Matt Albers, for instance, worked two spotless innings.
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The best pitching performance, though, was turned in by Alfredo Aceves, the Sox closer, who came into the game in the 10th with the score knotted at 4.
The right-hander was dominant, whiffing six of the 10 batters he faced in his 2 2/3-inning stint. Using a dazzling array of pitches, he got strikeouts using electric fastballs, knee-buckling curveballs, devastating changeups and sharp-breaking sliders. He overmatched the Orioles, nicked only for Chris Davis' single to right in the 11th and a bunt single by Endy Chavez in the 12th.
"He came in with a lot of rest and he was a man on a mission," said Valentine.
Unfortunately for the Sox, Franklin Morales, who got out of a jam in the 12th, was unable to hold the fort in the 13th. A single by Matt Wieters, a sacrifice bunt, a walk and a seeing-eye ground ball through the right side snapped the tie. Mark Reynolds' sacrifice fly provided an extra run for Baltimore closer Jim Johnson, who made short work of the Red Sox in the bottom of the 13th.
And just like that, the Red Sox, who held leads of 1-0, 3-1 and 4-3, were losers at home, again.
What will it take to shake the Sox out of their home funk?
"Sleep," said Pedroia, walking out of the clubhouse, knowing it would be only 13 hours before the Sox would have a chance to break their home losing streak Saturday afternoon against the Orioles.
Steven Krasner is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.