Bobby Valentine rips umps after loss

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine sat at his desk, legs crossed, slowly shaking his head. Something was brewing.

Moments before, Valentine had watched his team lose 4-3 Wednesday night to the Kansas City Royals in a game featuring a couple of close calls that might (or might not) have shifted the final score.

"Guys battled their butts off," Valentine said. "That's all I know. F---ing umpire can't make a right call and get help to get it done. It's a damn shame is what it is."

The call that had Valentine so upset happened in the ninth inning with no outs, and runners on first and second. Red Sox outfielder Marlon Byrd squared to bunt against Royals closer Jonathan Broxton. Broxton's pitch sailed inside, hitting Byrd's finger -- which is where the dispute started.

Valentine thought Byrd had pulled back his bat, which would have put him on first after getting hit by the pitch. Plate umpire Jeff Nelson disagreed, reasoning that Byrd had offered and thus ruling it a foul-ball strike.

Valentine wanted Nelson to check with his crew, but Nelson declined.

Byrd eventually laid down a successful sacrifice bunt, but the Red Sox's rally ended not long afterward on outs from Ryan Sweeney and Mike Aviles.

"It's not his job to call a freakin' play. Just get help," Valentine said. "It's a damn shame is what that is. It's a damn shame. Then they don't want replay. If they can't get it right, they should freakin' ask for help. They ask for help in the outfield (in the first inning), and I think they got it right. Why the f--- is it so hard to do it at the end of the game if they can do it at the beginning of the game?"

Said Nelson: "We usually don't ask about a ball hitting a guy's hand based on an umpire that's 100 feet away. You go on the best information that you have, and also, if the batter had been offering at the pitch and the pitch had hit his hand, the result would be a strike and a dead ball. But my ruling was a foul ball."

For his part, Byrd toed the line, saying, "It hit on my finger, but, again, he had it hitting the bat so it's one of those things where it's going a million miles per hour, and he makes the best call he can."

The ruling came after a pair of close calls in the first inning, when the Royals built an early 3-0 lead.

Jon Lester retired the Royals' first two hitters easily, then got two strikes on Billy Butler. But Lester didn't get a strike call on a borderline pitch; he actually started walking off the mound, thinking the inning was over.

"I feel like I got Butler out," Lester said, "and I ended up walking him."

Two batters later, Byrd misjudged and misplayed Johnny Giavotella's line drive, an error that allowed a run to score.

"It's one of those things where I got to make that and end the inning," Byrd said.

Later in the inning, Cody Ross nearly made a great running catch in left-center field, but after two steps, the ball popped out of his glove, bounced off the wall and resulted in a two-run double. Valentine ran out from the dugout and asked for an explanation.

"I asked (the umpire) what the ruling was," Ross said. "He said when you catch the ball, you have to maintain control or on exchange. That was the ruling. It's a tough call for him. I haven't seen the replay, but it ended up being a huge play for them."

Lester, the Royals-killer, looked like a flesh-and-bone mortal against a team he's made a habit of torturing.

If there was ever a sure thing in baseball recently, it was Lester hogtying the Royals. In the past four years -- five games in all -- Lester had given up only three runs against the Royals. Total. He matched that in Wednesday's first inning.

Lester gave up only one run the rest of the way, but he labored all night, unable to hit a groove. He exited after only five innings, his worst start against Kansas City since his rookie year in 2006.

"Just too many pitches," said Lester, who threw a no-hitter against the Royals in 2008. "That's kind of the theme throughout the game. Just took too many pitches to get guys out. Just too many pitches, which is bad because I felt like I had great stuff."

And it came on a night when the Sox offense couldn't bail him out.

After Adrian Gonzalez's three-run double in the third inning, which increased his season RBI total by 19 percent with one swing, Boston's attack carried little punch.

For four innings, from the fifth through the eighth, Boston produced only one base runner. Then the ninth came, and the Sox threatened but couldn't finish. They are now 1-7 in May and return home to Fenway Park, where they are 4-10 this season.

"It sucks," Lester said. "Hell, nobody in this clubhouse came to this team, whether they were a free agent or got called up, expecting to lose."

And yet, right now, that's what's happening.

Jayson Jenks is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.