Nats' sweep leaves Sox grumbling

BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox have lost six of their past seven games, including a 4-3 loss to the Washington Nationals on Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park, and after the game the team's frustrations were evident when manager Bobby Valentine blamed the umpires.

Valentine was ejected for the second time this season when he began arguing balls and strikes with plate umpire Alan Porter in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Red Sox were trailing by one with two outs and one runner on for Dustin Pedroia when Valentine started yelling from the dugout and was ejected.

"You have to talk to the hitters," Valentine said. "The game is simple: Throw it over the plate, call it a strike; don't throw it over the plate, call it a ball. Simple. That's all anyone asks. I know it's been going on for 100 years, and I'm not the first one to say it, but this was a pretty lousy series."

The last time the Red Sox publicly complained about the umpires, the team was in the midst of a five-game winning streak in early May.

"Yeah, it's pretty disappointing," Pedroia said of the umpires after Sunday's loss. "We're trying to compete, everyone is, both teams, and you don't want them to come into play and stuff like that. It's hard enough playing the game against good pitching and good players. So it's pretty disappointing."

It wasn't solely Pedroia's at-bat that Valentine was concerned with; rather, it was an accumulation of calls throughout the series.

"You've got guys busting their butts, battling their butts off and it's not right," Valentine said. "Good umpires had a real bad series this series -- a real bad series. It went one way. There should be a review."

With two outs and the game tied at 3-3 in the top of the ninth inning, Valentine believed the Red Sox got squeezed on a call when closer Alfredo Aceves had a 2-2 count on the Nationals' Roger Bernadina. What the Red Sox believe should have been strike three was called a ball, and then on Aceves' next offering, Bernadina provided Washington's game-winning run with an RBI double.

"I'm not going to complain," Aceves said. "What do you think of the umpires? I can't complain. It's been like that for years. … He could have called it a strike, yeah."

His catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, agreed.

"Ace made a great pitch on 2-2, and from what I saw, it was a strike," Saltalamacchia said. "Nobody's perfect and we understand that. All we ask is for a better look at everything."

Aceves delivered a fastball that the Red Sox felt caught the inside corner of the plate.

"Ace was battling. He did a great job and made a great pitch on 2-2 that I felt got us out of that inning and had a chance to win the game," Saltalamacchia added. "When it comes down to it, that's what we want to do, we want to win the game. We're not asking them to expand the strike zone. We're not asking them to completely tighten it up. We just want to be equal on both sides, tighten up and get a better look at every pitch."

Saltalamacchia had the best seat in the house and even though he went 0-for-4 with four swinging strikeouts, he believed there were definitely some questionable calls.

"From a hitter's aspect of it, I don't know too much because I pretty much swung at everything, but I felt there were some pitches that could definitely go our way," Saltalamacchia said. "That's just the way the game is. You can't really rely on the umpires and you've got to do it ourselves and that's what it boils down to.

"We hate losing and we don't want to lose," Saltalamacchia said. "We went up against three pretty good pitchers [in this series] but we kept the games close, the last two especially. You hate to lose but it's not from lack of trying, we're busting our tails, doing everything we can but we're not getting the runs we need."

Boston faced Washington's top three pitchers in this series in Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, and all three kept the Sox's bats pretty much silent all weekend. Valentine tipped his cap to the opposition's starting rotation, but he wasn't about to give them all the credit for the string of victories.

"They pitched well and I thought they got pitches in key situations that weren't strikes," Valentine said.

Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who went 0-for-4 on both Saturday and Sunday and finished the homestand 6-for-25, had voiced his opinion about the umpires earlier this season. On Sunday, however, he kept his comments brief.

"They're great," he said. "They've been great all year and that's all I've got to say."

The bigger issue here is not the umpires; it's a struggling ballclub.

The Red Sox fell two games below .500 for the first time since May 19.

The Sox's inability to climb out of the basement in the AL East is becoming a real problem. Most players will give you the standard "there's plenty of baseball left" line, but Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester was a little more descriptive after his start on Sunday.

"All I know is that however many guys we have in this clubhouse, there seems to be a lot of them with all these injuries that we've been trying to get through," Lester said. "Everyone cares. Nobody has been in this situation here, nobody has lost before like this. It's all new.

"I'm sure I can speak for myself, it aggravates the [heck] out of me. I hate going out there and losing, regardless if I'm pitching or not. I know guys are frustrated and rightly so. It sounds cliché and I keep saying it, but if we keep grinding out at-bats and we keep grinding out starts, then something's gotta give. Our effort is there. The will is there. The execution is there.

"The biggest thing is that nobody in that clubhouse is giving up," he said. "Everybody shows up and prepares the same way as if we were in first place and up by 10 games."

Valentine was visibly upset after Sunday's game. He was mad about the loss, the losing streak and the umpires.

When asked to describe his thoughts on the team's homestand, he said: "I don't have very descriptive words. It's over."

Now, the team heads out on the road and will continue the interleague schedule when the Sox travel to Miami to face the Marlins in a three-game set before facing the Cubs in Chicago next weekend.