Ugly defeat assures losing season

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Daisuke Matsuzaka stood in the center of Boston’s quiet clubhouse Wednesday night.

His answers were short, elongated only by the occasional pause. He was quiet, his head cocked, his eyes filled with disappointment.

The Red Sox's season was summed up in that picture: One part bewilderment, one part shock, all disappointment.

Boston fell 13-3 to the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday, dropping their record to 68-82 and assuring the franchise of its first losing season since 1997.

On this night, the blame fell squarely on Matsuzaka and the army of ineffective arms that followed.

It’s one thing to see your pitchers get lit up by the likes of the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers or Detroit Tigers.

But these were the Rays, the same team that mustered just three singles Tuesday night and began the day ranked 28th in baseball in hitting (.237) and was averaging 3.3 runs over its past eight games.

Yet with the exception of Scott Atchison, who cruised through a 1 2/3-inning cameo long after the outcome had been decided and each team turned the final few innings into a celebrated JV game, no one wearing Red Sox colors could stop them.

“Tough to look at,” manager Bobby Valentine said.

Harder to stomach. The Red Sox walked 10 one night after walking eight. Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard teamed to walk five during a nightmarish sixth inning when the Rays scored seven runs, aided further by a pair of errors.

Bard, who has struggled mightily since being called up from Pawtucket, walked three of the five batters he faced (he also gave up a single and sacrifice fly). Just four of his 16 pitches were strikes. Miller followed and walked both batters he faced, forcing in a pair of runs. Just three of his 11 pitches were strikes.

By contrast, Atchison recorded five outs on 10 pitches, eight of which were strikes.

As a team, the Red Sox threw 173 pitches, just 88 for strikes, a rate of just better than 50 percent.

“Walks are the killer,” Valentine said.

Strangely enough, the night began with promise. Matsuzaka allowed three singles to load the bases in the second before walking Matt Joyce to force in a run. But then he struck out Carlos Pena and got Jose Molina to ground into an inning-ending double play.

On the surface, it was a fine escape act. It wound up being nothing more than a tease.

The Rays torched Matsuzaka in the fourth, when Jeff Keppinger homered to tie the game at 3, Pena’s two-run shot gave Tampa Bay the lead and the light-hitting Molina cracked a booming double off the top of the wall in center.

“He threw the ball down the middle and they hit it hard,” Valentine said, “like they should.”

Matsuzaka was done, his ERA having swelled to 7.68 and his record falling to an unsightly 1-6.

“After my last outing, I was headed in the right direction and I wanted to keep the momentum going,” he said through a translator. “But it didn’t end up that way. It’s been really hard to keep the positive going forward so far. As always, I’m really disappointed in myself for putting my team in a hole.”

What happened in that fourth inning?

“I was struggling with my command from the first inning, and I kept on throwing where I wanted the ball,” Matsuzaka said. “And they never miss those pitches and it really hurt me today.”

But he wasn’t alone. Alfredo Aceves, making his first outing in a week, allowed four runs in two innings and made a horrendous throwing error on Molina’s bunt single in the sixth.

Chris Carpenter even trudged through his one inning, allowing two hits and a run and walking two.

“Daniel Bard is kind of in a catch-22, where he looks like he needs to pitch more and you'd like for him to pitch better, for him to pitch more,” Valentine said. “He waits a long time to get in there, and it looks like he’s trying too hard.

“Andrew Miller walked two guys in a row for the first time in a long time.”

The Red Sox have allowed 13 runs or more seven times this year, their most since 2006. Wednesday marked the fifth time in the past 26 games they’ve allowed 10 runs or more.

For the first time in 15 years, Fenway Park and the city of Boston will play host to a losing baseball team.

Anyone watching Wednesday night won’t have a hard time figuring out why.