Miller, Sox lose their way vs. Rangers

BOSTON -- Now, that was awkward.

The idea was to have Red Sox players step out of the dugout in the middle of the fifth inning to salute the fans on the occasion of the team’s 700th consecutive sellout.

Nice gesture, except that it came at a moment when no one was particularly eager to show his face, given that the Sox were down 10-0 at the time to the Texas Rangers.

Mercifully, organizers waited until after the game to distribute the commemorative “700” balls to the paying spectators, otherwise the Sox might have finished this one dodging projectiles from a full house announced as 38,073.

The blowout came on a night when the Yankees were winning at home against the Blue Jays, which means the Sox, in addition to losing for the third time in the past four games, relinquished first place in the American League East to the Bombers. The Sox now trail the Yankees by a half-game in the East with the Sox having 25 games left, the Yankees 26.

Just eight days ago, left-hander Andrew Miller spun a beauty against the Rangers in Texas, holding them scoreless on three hits in 6 1/3 innings. On Friday night, Miller lasted four outs. He exited with the Sox down 5-0 with the bases loaded, having yielded a single and two walks after Ian Kinsler had taken him out to Lansdowne Street with a three-run home run.

The first hint it might not be Miller's night came when pitching coach Curt Young made his first visit to the mound, 11 pitches into the game, Miller having walked the first two batters and fallen behind the third, 2 and 0.

"Basically he told me, 'Trust it, the stuff is good enough, get it over the plate and let them make contact,'" Miller said. "I wasn't doing that, and he was right. Never really made the correct adjustment.''

Well, yes and no. A balk didn't help. Miller thought he had a chance to pick Kinsler off second base but flinched.

"I can't remember the last time I balked,'' he said. "I don't think I balked in college. It goes to show you the game sped up on me and I didn't handle it well, and that stunk because it cost us a run.

"I just looked at him a second time, and I don't think he was expecting it. I think he was trying to go and I think that surprised me. I didn't do my job, spin and throw. I flinched and I knew it.''

Actually, Miller has balked twice as a pro, once in the big leagues with Detroit and once in the minors in 2009, but recall was hardly his biggest problem Friday night.

Miller came back to strike out Josh Hamilton and induced Michael Young to hit a ball to short that could have resulted in an out, except Jed Lowrie was unable to come up with it as a run scored. Adrian Beltre's sacrifice fly made it 2-0.

Two more ground-ball singles, another that Lowrie failed to make a play on and one that eluded the normally automatic Gonzalez, preceded Kinsler's blast that made it 5-0.

"Pitch was supposed to be in to Kinsler, and I assume it wasn't,'' Miller said after the shortest start by a Sox pitcher this season. "Things snowballed from there. Never made the correct adjustment. Killed us, lost the game, killed our bullpen.''

Matt Albers, who has gone from ol’ reliable to you-can’t-hide-him in the space of a month, gave up two more home runs in the fifth, to ex-Sox David Murphy and shortstop Elvis Andrus. Albers has allowed baserunners in each of his past 14 appearances and three or more runs in four of his past seven outings, his ERA inflating from 2.09 to 4.69 in the span of five weeks. He's pitched his way from seventh-inning setup to mop-up to perilously close to out of the team's postseason plans.

By the fifth, this looked like an exercise in Fort Myers, manager Terry Francona lifting both Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez, and letting Tim Wakefield tune up for his next try at No. 200, Wednesday in Toronto. That might not be a bad thing. Wakefield gave up three singles in four scoreless innings.

"Bad night all around,'' Francona said. "We just didn't play a very good game.''

The Sox were shut out for the 10th time this season on the night Kevin Youkilis returned to the lineup after a stint on the DL with a strained back. Youkilis had a quiet night, striking out twice and rolling to second.

So did Carl Crawford, who was scratched from the starting lineup only minutes before the first pitch.

"The old intestinal turmoil,'' Francona said. "He got really sick before the game. It was like 10 minutes before the game when he'd gotten sick; he wanted to play.''

In Crawford's absence, the newest member of the Red Sox, Conor Jackson, made his debut, playing left field before shifting to first when Gonzalez came out. Jackson went hitless in three at-bats.

Derek Holland held the Sox to two hits in seven innings for the win.