KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There is a certain confidence that comes from feeling like the worst is behind you.
The Red Sox were feeling it in the eighth inning Tuesday. They had weathered an injury to their hot-hitting third baseman, survived a rough second inning from their starting pitcher and built a one-run lead against the scuffling Royals.
Daniel Bard was in command, cruising toward his third win and his longest outing as a starter. Boston had escaped a jam in the seventh, and after all of that, manager Bobby Valentine didn’t see the Red Sox losing their grip.
“Well,” Valentine said, “it happened.”
The game changed with one swing by Billy Butler, who deposited a 1-1 pitch from Matt Albers into the left-field fountains for a three-run homer and a 6-4 Kansas City victory. It was an abrupt turn of events, predicated by one pitch Albers wished he could take back.
“I didn’t stay back over the rubber quite enough, and the ball leaked over the plate,” said Albers, who hadn’t allowed a run in his previous seven appearances. “He’s a good hitter. I faced him a few times and got him to roll over on sinkers down and in, down and away. That’s what I was trying to do right there, and the ball just leaked over the plate.”
The trouble started when Bard dealt back-to-back walks to open the eighth inning. Boston led 4-3 at that point, with the Royals' runs coming in a balk-aided second inning. Bard breezed through the middle innings and, at fewer than 90 pitches, had designs on a complete game.
“After the second inning, when he kind of gave away three runs, he was in complete control of the game with all his pitches,” Valentine said. “I was very surprised to see him walk those hitters.”
Bard was surprised too.
“I kind of smelled the finish line and wanted to get that win for our team really bad,” said Bard, who was charged with five runs and took the loss. “I just tried to do a little too much with those pitches, maybe didn’t trust them to the middle of the zone as much as I had been.”
Bard had rebounded nicely after a three-run second inning that featured two balks from the Boston starter. Both occurred with Chris Getz at the plate, with one coming on a third-to-first move and the other coming when Bard stepped off the rubber and looked to second.
“The balks, that’s a fluke thing,” Bard said. “I can’t remember the last time I’ve balked in my life, ever. I don’t think I’ve done it in the big leagues.”
The Red Sox tied the game on Dustin Pedroia’s RBI single in the fourth, then took a 4-3 lead on a throwing error by Getz in the fifth.
They did so without their hottest hitter, rookie Will Middlebrooks, who left the game in the second inning with tightness in his left hamstring.
Middlebrooks doubled in his only plate appearance, raising his average to .435 and joining Enos Slaughter as the only players since 1900 to record extra-base hits in each of his first five major league games.
Middlebrooks said he hoped to be back in Boston’s lineup for Wednesday’s series finale.
“It’s not serious,” he said. “It’s nothing to worry about.”
Boston got a different kind of scare in the seventh, when the Royals put runners at second and third with one out. The Red Sox quickly killed the rally, though, as Adrian Gonzalez fielded a squeeze bunt and fired home to get Jeff Francoeur.
Gonzalez said he suspected the squeeze after watching third base coach Eddie Rodriguez run through a long series of signs with hitter Alcides Escobar.
“Whenever you’ve got a third base coach giving signs and really focusing on the hitter, you always say there might be something on,” Gonzalez said. “Usually in that situation, they’re telling the runner to see it through. They’re not really giving signs.”
At that point, it appeared Boston would escape with only minor scrapes.
Actually, the worst was still ahead.
“After that, you definitely feel like the game, the momentum is on our side,” Bard said. “We would have liked to finish it.”