Monday, July 16, 2007

Plenty hits, no Runs in Sox Loss to Bluejays

When Kevin Youkilis walked away from the plate, his hands held skyward, one still clutching his bat, his face was a mask of ire. He had just struck out swinging for the second out of the eighth inning, leaving a man on first base with his team down by one run. He was not alone in his anger.

Not that they were all strikeouts. There were fly outs and ground outs and double-play balls, a bunt that resulted in an out at third, a man thrown out at the plate. There was also only one run scored by the Red Sox on an afternoon Josh Beckett contained the Blue Jays, all culminating in a 2-1 loss that gave Toronto a split of the four-game series at Fenway Park and trimmed Boston's American League East lead to single digits for the first time in more than two weeks.

"I don't know if the word is frustrating," Julio Lugo said. "We just didn't put our hits together. We hit the ball. We didn't come out with the hits with men on base. They just beat us."

The Blue Jays sent Beckett to just his third defeat of the season, although the All-Star righthander lowered his ERA from 3.44 to 3.35 with eight innings of seven-hit, eight-strikeout baseball before 36,301.

"He pitched so well," manager Terry Francona said. "Other than [a two-run second inning], he was tremendous. Most nights we're sitting here saying, 'Well, it was a couple bad pitches early in the game and it was overall a great game.' But when you score one, it ends up being one too many [for them]."

With the wind shaking the flagpole and the players, and rain seemingly imminent in the late innings, the Sox failed to capitalize on 13 base runners (11 hits, one walk, one fielder's choice), watching their most encouraging chance obliterated when David Ortiz rumbled into home plate and an out to end the sixth.

Toronto rookie starter Jesse Litsch was working on a shutout when Alex Cora hit a leadoff double to center. Right fielder Alex Rios then dived late for an Ortiz wind-aided ball that scored Cora. Rios appeared to be in position to make the catch before the wind played with it, the miss coming one day after Vernon Wells misplayed a Coco Crisp liner into a triple and Rios missed an Ortiz shot that bounced into the right-field stands for a double.

With one out, Youkilis walked, putting runners on first and second. Catcher Jason Phillips then made a twisting, not particularly graceful catch on a foul pop that Mike Lowell thought he had hit into the stands. But the wind brought it back into play. Eric Hinske, playing for the injured J.D. Drew, proceeded to single to right field. That was when Ortiz made his dash toward home, and when Rios redeemed himself.

"It's two outs," Ortiz said. "You've got to try. I didn't know that guy [Rios] had a cannon. What if he made a bad throw? You've got to take your chances, especially against a guy that's been throwing the ball good."

Ortiz was referring to Litsch, whose major league debut May 15 resulted in 8 2/3 innings of four-hit, one-run baseball against the Orioles. And, despite having lost each of his last three decisions, Litsch managed to work out of trouble. Not all of the Sox players were overly impressed with his offerings, but they had to give him credit for extricating himself from some messy situations.

Such as second- and third-inning double plays, the latter the more confounding for the Sox. After Lugo and Crisp singled leading off, Alex Cora (who also committed an error in the fourth) bunted down the third base line. But Litsch cleaned it up, throwing to third for the force out. That was followed by Ortiz grounding into a 1-6-3 double play.

"He was mixing his pitches," Lugo said. "I didn't think he had nothing special. They were just throwing strikes and mixing his pitches. He made some big pitches when he needed to."

Beckett's only hiccup came with two outs in the second. Lyle Overbay doubled to the center-field triangle and scored on an Aaron Hill double to left. Royce Clayton then singled to right field to score Hill. That was enough for Toronto.

"I was the second-best pitcher today," Beckett said. "Bottom line: get out pitched, you lose. And that's what happened today."

In the end, his offense couldn't get the runners in. They were on base. They just didn't cross the plate.

"We got our chances," Cora said. "We didn't take advantage of them."

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