BOSTON -- Boston manager Bobby Valentine made a couple of curious moves in the eighth inning of Wednesday’s game against the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park. And they backfired big time, a major reason the Red Sox dropped a 6-3 decision to the Rangers, extending Boston’s losing streak to three games and plunging the team’s record to 4-8, the worst in the American League East.
With the bases loaded, one out and the Red Sox trailing 3-2, Valentine elected to stick with left-hander Franklin Morales to face Craig Gentry, a right-handed hitter batting for David Murphy, a left-handed hitter.
Valentine had right-hander Matt Albers all warmed up in the bullpen but decided not to go with the percentages and match right-handed pitcher against right-handed batter.
Morales got ahead of Gentry at 0 and 2. Gentry fouled off two pitches and took the next two for balls. Morales’ next pitch hit Gentry on his left foot, forcing in a run that put Texas on top 4-2.
The next batter was another right-handed hitter, Mike Napoli. All he had done in the two games in this series was bash three homers, including one earlier in Wednesday night’s game. Albers was standing on the bullpen mound, looking for a summons from his manager.
It never came. Valentine stayed bundled up in the Sox dugout, hands jammed into the pockets of his Red Sox jacket.
Valentine decided once again to stick with his left-hander.
And the Sox paid a steep price for that decision. Napoli ripped a two-run double into the gap in left-center off Morales, expanding Texas’ advantage to 6-2.
After an intentional walk filled the bases, still with only one out, Valentine finally came out of the dugout to a low chorus of boos and brought in Albers. And while there was no knowing how Albers would have fared against Gentry or Napoli, he did get Brandon Snyder to bang into an inning-ending double play.
SOLID START FOR BECKETT: Pitching against the Texas Rangers these days can be a tall order for any pitcher, as Jon Lester found out Tuesday night when he was raked for seven earned runs in only two-plus innings.
Wednesday night it was Josh Beckett’s turn to take a shot at stifling the potent Rangers offense.
And he turned in a very solid performance, his second consecutive such effort. Beckett worked the first seven innings and finished strong, retiring the final 12 batters he faced, starting with the final three batters of the fourth inning.
Unfortunately for the right-hander, however, he was less successful in his efforts against the first two batters in the fourth inning. Ex-Sox outfielder David Murphy opened the fourth with a line single to center, and then Napoli crushed a two-run homer to the back row of the Monster seats.
That homer, Napoli’s third in two games, came on a fat 92 mph fastball that was down the middle and a tad higher than the belt. It gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead.
After the long ball, Beckett and catcher Kelly Shoppach began to mix in more cutters and curveballs, to great effect. He was able to keep the Rangers off balance, helping him rack up four of his seven strikeouts for the game, as he mowed down the final dozen Texas hitters he faced.
But after seven innings and 110 pitches, Beckett was done, and he was on the hook for a loss with Boston trailing 3-2.
After suffering through a dreadful first start, in which he coughed up five homers and seven earned runs in only 4 2/3 innings in a loss in Detroit, Beckett has permitted only four runs in his past 15 innings (2.40 ERA) over his past two starts.
YOUK GOES DEEP: The move down to the sixth spot in the batting order apparently was just the tonic for struggling Kevin Youkilis. At least for one at-bat. His first time up, Youkilis, who has been tinkering with his batting stance amid a slump that had dropped his average to .176, crushed a 2-and-2 pitch over the wall in left-center near the 379-foot marker for a two-run homer. It was Youkilis’ first homer of the year. He grounded out, struck out and reached on an error in his other three at-bats.
BIG ASSIST: One night after a weak defensive play in left field by Cody Ross cost the Red Sox some runs, Darnell McDonald made a play in left field that preserved a run for Boston. McDonald hustled over to left-center and fielded Elvis Andrus’ one-out base hit. And when Andrus tried to stretch the hit into a double, McDonald made a strong, accurate throw to second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who tagged out the sliding Andrus in the opinion of umpire Al Porter. The next two Texas batters also singled, but instead of pulling even at 2-2, the Rangers still were trailing 2-1 when Josh Beckett fanned Nelson Cruz for the final out because of McDonald’s throw.