PHILADELPHIA -- Josh Beckett is never happy after losses. But this one was especially mood-altering.
As the starter walked out of Citizens Bank Park with a guitar slung over his back and a scowl strewn across his face, Beckett seemingly chewed on the six-inning, 11-hit, seven-run outing a bit differently than any of his other three losses this season.
This one had come out of absolutely nowhere.
For seven starts he had experienced nothing but success, totaling a 5-0 record with a 1.70 ERA. In his previous five outings his ERA stood at 0.76 with an opponents' batting average of .124 that accompanied 35 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings.
And in Beckett's last three starts there had been just one earned run in 20 2/3 innings, a stretch that had included just six hits.
Then came Sunday, or more specifically, Sunday at approximately 3 p.m.
Up until the fifth inning of what turned into an 11-6 Red Sox loss to the Phillies (recap here), Beckett looked like the same pitcher of the last month. He was coming off a fourth inning that gave the appearance of over-matched Philadelphia hitters, with Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth striking out, and Greg Hobbs weakly grounding out.
After surrendering one run in the first, Beckett had gone on to retire his next 10. But, thanks to a combination of missed locations and a few well-placed hits, perception got flipped in a hurry.
Four runs in the fifth and six runs in the seventh -- an inning that began with Jimmy Rollins' go-head homer and Shane Victorino single -- drove Beckett from the game. Suddenly, one of the best runs of the starter's career was over.
"It's just a (gosh darn) shame when your team scores you six runs and you can't hold them to less than that," Beckett said.
The explanations continued as Beckett answered the questions regarding a start that included as many earned runs as the starter had given up in his previous six outings.
"Everything felt fine."
"I haven't looked at any pitches but obviously they must have been up if they were getting them over the infield."
"They scored four runs that inning. I think that's where the game got away. Bad pitches, apparently."
Then he gathered his belongings, and headed off to the team bus. Looking toward his next streak wasn't in the mix with each step out of the visitors' clubhouse. Figuring out how the last one came to an end would have to take priority for a while.
BIG LEAGUE LESSON FOR BARD
Daniel Bard struggled through his worst relief appearance as a big leaguer, allowing four runs on two hits and three runs in just 2/3 innings during what turned into a six-run seventh inning.
It was an appearance that harkened Bard back to last season, when he was pitching for Double-A Portland.
“Last year in Portland I gave up two home runs in a relief outing. I think I followed it up with like eight or nine scoreless ones after that,” Bard said. “Just stick with what gets you to that point, and one bad outing, whether it’s getting hit or walking a couple of guys, I’m not going to change the way I go about things.”
So what did Bard do to deal with it?
“I talked to the pitching coach at the time, and he said, ‘Hey, they hit some good pitches. You’re doing what you need to do,’” the rookie said. “In this case I was around the zone, wasn’t hitting my spots and could have located better, there’s no doubt about it. It’s nothing to throw the red flag out about or anything. I’m looking forward to getting back out there again.”
The outing for Bard, who came on for Beckett with no outs and a runner on first in the seventh inning, could have been a lot less painful if he was able to hold on to a wide throw from shortstop Julio Lugo that could have potentially translated into an inning-ending double play.
But, with Bard covering first on the throw back on a potential 3-6-1 double play, the ball bounced off the pitcher’s glove as he sprawled out to haul in the throw. With the ball trickling away, Shane Victorino scored from second base with Philly’s seventh run.
“It hit my glove,” Bard said. “It wasn’t an easy play, but it hit my glove and I had a chance at it, but I didn’t make the play.”
Doubles from Jason Werth and Pedro Feliz, sandwiched around a Greg Dobbs strikeout, led to an intentional walk from Bard to Chris Coste, loading the bases. That would end Bard’s day, as Takashi Saito came on and proceeded to force in a pair of runs by hitting Jimmy Rollins and walking Victorino, finishing the scoring in the Phillies’ six-run frame.
“I had trouble repeating my delivery. It was nothing much more to it than that. I could have made it a lot easier on myself if I caught that ball and finished that double play, but I wasn’t able to,” Bard said. ”I learn from everything. I’ll just stick with what has made me successful to this point. I’m not going to totally re-tool my pitches or anything. I’m just going to go out there next time and pound the zone like I have been.
“It’s a bump in the road. I think everybody in this locker room has had at least one tough one and that’s the same for me. I’m not going to let it be any more than that and I’ll stick with the process that got me to this point and go from there.”
CLOSE, BUT NO...
Two plays in the seventh could have dramatically changed the fortunes of the Red Sox' Sunday. The first, and ultimately most scrutinized, came in the fifth when Victorino lined a Beckett pitch into shallow right field with two outs.
Rocco Baldelli, who was playing in his third game in four days, got a late break on the ball, having to pull up just before reaching the hit, and allowing the Chris Coste to score the Phillies' second run.
"On the ball Victorino hit, I didn't get a good jump," said Baldelli, who had gotten the Red Sox on the board first with a solo homer in the second inning. "I would have liked to have brought that ball in. It would have been the third out. But, like I said, once I didn't get a good jump on it, I wanted to keep it in front of me."
(Baldelli would ultimately be replaced by Mark Kotsay in right field in the seventh inning due to tired legs.)
Then came another chance for the Red Sox to get out of the inning when Chase Utley stepped to the plate on the next at-bat. Now with the Sox holding a 4-2 lead, Utley hit a grounder to what would have been right at the usual shortstop position, but with the Red Sox in a David Ortiz-like shift, it forced Mike Lowell to range four steps to his right.
Lowell got the ball, and tried to plant for a throw strong enough to get Utley at first, but ultimately didn't have enough on the ball as the bid fell short of first baseman Kevin Youkilis, resulting in the third baseman's seventh error of the season.
Asked after the game about the last time he had to range into the hole like that as a shortstop, Lowell responded, "Gables Cavaliers," referring to his high school team.
"It felt like it was more do or die," he said. "The first instinct was to go to get the lead runner, but at the four-stride mark, especially with Victorino at first, I thought I was going ot have a better chance at Chase. I didn't put the oomph on the ball that I wanted to."
The Phillies took advantage of the extended inning, getting a two-run double from Ryan Howard that capped their four-run fifth, putting Philly up a run heading into the sixth. And then...
THE RED SOX PITCHERS CAN HIT
Beckett didn't want to talk about it, but it was hard not to.
After walking off the field having just surrendered his three-run lead, the Red Sox starter took matters into his own hands by pummeling an 86 mph straight ball from Philly starter J.A. Happ into the left field stands, 10 rows deep.
“I don’t want to talk about that,” said Beckett, who had supplied the last home run hit by a Red Sox pitcher, also at Citizens Bank Park back on May 20, 2006. “All I did was help us lose the game. I’d like to talk about the other stuff I did to help us lose the game.”
Fair enough. But it was hard to ignore the Sox' pitchers' ability to handle the bat in three-game series. All three starters -- Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Lester, and Beckett -- put solid swings on the ball, with Sunday's hurler having hit a ball to deep right-center even before his homer.
Of the eight at-bats, Sox pitchers finished with just two strikeouts, with Lester getting down the group's only sacrifice bunt.
Even reliever Hideki Okajima got solid contact in the bullpen's lone representation at the plate, hitting a hard grounder back up the box. The last time Okajima hit?
"In the Japanese-US media softball game in Fort Myers," relayed translator Jeff Yamaguchi. (The reliever actually lined a hit back through the middle in that game as well, almost decapitating WEEI.com's own Mike Petraglia.)
The success didn't come as too much of a surprise considering the athleticism of the group. Lester dunked a basketball when he was 12, played on a traveling soccer team that competed in Europe, and was almost drafted as a hitter. Matsuzaka's batting practices routinely saw him plant balls into the stands. And Beckett now has six hits with the Red Sox.
And the one pitcher who Francona said that he would choose to use as a pinch-hitter if needed, Brad Penny, didn't even participate in Philly. Penny hit .246 in 2007, going 16-for-65.
In case you were wondering, Red Sox pitchers are hitting .111 (27-for-244) since the start of interleague play in 1997, with Beckett's two blasts as the only two homers.
LENNY HARRIS BREATHES EASY
Dustin Pedroia's pinch-hitting totals didn't budge. He still has five hits in seven chances. (Harris, of course, holds the major league record with 212 career pinch-hits, although Pedroia's .714 average is the best all-time among hitters with as many as seven at-bats.)
No, Pedroia got the day off completely. No batting practice. Nothing.
Pedroia is just four for his last 36, and finished the series in Philly going 1-for-13, pushing his average to .293, his lowest mark since April 24. Since moving into the leadoff spot, 13 games ago, he is hitting .170 with an on-base percentage of .267.
"I've just hit one of those things where I'm not getting a lot of hits," said Pedroia, who said his legs felt 'heavy.' "Guys go through that. I'm not worried about it. I'll figure it out. I'm just trying to find that consistency. I'm hitting around .300, that's pretty consistent, but I haven't found that swing to maintain it throughout the year like I did last year, but it will come. I'm not panicking or anything like that. I'll be fine."
ORTIZ, ON THE OTHER HAND...
David Ortiz only started one game, going 1-for-4, but did get into Sunday's Sox' loss as a pinch-hitter in the eighth and walked. It capped a week that saw the DH hit .308 with two homers, four walks, and just two strikeouts.
Bottom line: Ortiz has entered the second-half of June looking like a much more confident hitter.
So, now that Ortiz has seemingly figured some things out, one question could be asked -- with the shift still applied (albeit with slightly diminished frequency) by opponents, why didn't he try to bunt his way on during his horrific hitting spell?
"I stink at bunting," Ortiz said. "I have thought about it, but when I get to the plate, then I get thinking about how I don't want to lose an at-bat. Sometimes I'll bunt and I miss a pitch right down the middle and I get mad. I feel like I could have hit that ball out of the park. It happens all the time. But I'm not going to say I won't do it."