SEATTLE -- When a team is struggling to score runs, it has to be almost perfect in all other aspects of the game in order to have success.
Fundamentals play a major role in that philosophy, and right now the Boston Red Sox are having difficulties at the plate and out of the bullpen. Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein has made it clear he’s looking to acquire a reliever before the July 31 trade deadline, and with the happenings over the weekend at Safeco Field, he’s probably using up his cell-phone minutes.
Boston dropped its second in a row to the lowly Seattle Mariners on Sunday, losing 4-2. The Sox were clinging to a 2-1 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth inning when things unraveled because of poor pitching and poor defense by reliever Hideki Okajima.
The struggling left-hander was summoned from the bullpen with one runner on and no outs. He allowed a single to the Mariners’ Justin Smoak before completely botching a sacrifice bunt attempt.
Seattle’s Casey Kotchman dropped a bunt on the grass between the mound and third base. Okajima fielded the ball and had plenty of time to get the lead runner at third. Instead, he stopped, turned toward first and made a lackadaisical throw to Kevin Youkilis.
Everyone was safe.
“I saw that we had enough time to make a play at third,” said Beltre, who added he was surprised Okajima did not throw the ball. “Yeah, I was yelling for it, but I don’t know why he didn’t throw it. Maybe he didn’t have a good grip, or he thought he didn’t have a chance. Did you talk to him?”
Okajima declined requests to talk to reporters. He typically talks only when he pitches well.
“He looked to third and looked like he had time and Beltre got back,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “It started out looking good, but he didn’t take the throw to third. We always give [pitchers] the option; if you’re not sure, get an out. From there, it just, I don’t know if he didn’t have a handle, but it didn’t look like there was a lot of urgency. They’re trying to give you an out and you don’t take it. A lot of times good things don’t happen after that.”
Later that inning, Okajima botched another bunt play when he interfered with Youkilis’ ability to field the ball, allowing the Mariners' fourth run to score.
“Looked like they were both converging and it looked like he cut in front of Youk,” said Francona. “Kotchman didn’t break [from third base] right away and I think we had a pretty good play at the plate. When [Okajima] cut in front of Youk, Youk lost it. He screened him.”
After numerous requests to discuss his outing, Okajima just sat in the corner of the clubhouse and told a Red Sox official he was not talking. That didn’t go over well among his teammates.
"I have never understood him," said one Red Sox player. "He's moody." It didn't take long for Okajima's teammates to realize he wasn't answering questions.
The Red Sox split the series with the Mariners and are now 3-4 on their three-city, 10-game road trip. Other players made critical mistakes in this series, and all of them held themselves accountable.
In the first game on Thursday, reliever Manny Delcarmen entered the game with a five-run lead in the ninth inning but quickly surrendered four runs (three earned) on two hits, including a home run. The Mariners eventually tied the game and the Sox needed 13 innings before posting an 8-6 victory.
After his meltdown on the mound, Delcarmen swore for perhaps the first time during an interview. But it wasn’t his choice of vocabulary that mattered, it was the fact he took the blame for his subpar performance.
On Saturday, Red Sox starter Jon Lester was in the midst of a perfect game until center fielder Eric Patterson dropped a fly ball with one out in the sixth inning. After the Sox lost, 5-1, Patterson was at his locker ready for reporters' questions.
“Everyone is kind of different when they deal with things,” Patterson said in general terms and not singling out Okajima. “For me personally, I’ve always been ..., guys are always willing to talk when they do well and I think it should be the same when things don’t go their way. It’s one thing if they don’t -- period -- if that’s their deal.”
No one is more willing to discuss his failures than closer Jonathan Papelbon. If he blows a save opportunity, he takes all the blame.
“Everybody deals with things differently,” Papelbon said. “More writers talk to me after I blow a save.”
That’s because he’s always front and center, and holds himself accountable when he gives it up.
The Sox’s struggles of late can’t be blamed solely on Okajima. During this series, the Mariners scored 11 of their 16 runs in the eight and ninth innings, so there’s reason for Epstein to talk with other GMs, looking for bullpen help.
Another big problem has been Boston’s offense, which has been almost nonexistent since the All-Star break.
“It’s disappointing,” Beltre said. “There were a lot of things we didn’t do right today and we lost. It wasn’t just that [bunt] play, but that play was probably one of the key plays. We didn’t do a lot of things right to win this ballgame. We didn’t play well the whole series. We need to start playing better. Not just offensively, but in all [aspects] of the game. There’s no doubt we’ve been down offensively and we know we can get better.”