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The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays continued their three-game series at Tropicana Field Tuesday night. The Rays had won the first meeting of the series, erasing a four-run deficit and then holding the Red Sox scoreless for six innings thanks to phenomenal pitching from the bullpen. Tuesday’s match-up featured the second career start for Boston’s Felix Doubront, who had won his first start against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He faced off against Tampa Bay’s Jeff Niemann, who had lost his previous two home starts but came into the game 6-2 overall with an ERA under 3.00.
The Rays were the first team to score in this game, when John Jaso singled in the bottom of the third inning. A Doubront wild pitch advanced him to second, and he was promptly driven in by a Jason Bartlett single. When the Red Sox next came up to bat in the fourth, Kevin Youkilis stepped out of the batter’s box and went to one knee, grabbing his right ankle. Believing it to be just cramps, the trainer immediately came out. Unfortunately, Youkilis wound up leaving the game with what has only been described as “right ankle pain” (x-rays would later turn up negative). He was replaced by Niuman Romero, a recent call-up from Triple-A Pawtucket. Later in the inning, J.D. Drew reached on a throwing error by Rays third-baseman Evan Longoria (playing somewhat out of the position due to the shift the Rays employ against Drew). He scored to tie the game on a single by Daniel Nava.
The Rays retook the lead in the fifth on a triple by Sean Rodriguez and a Jaso RBI groundout, then scored an insurance run the eighth on a home run by Carl Crawford off Hideki Okajima, whose ERA now sits at 6.00. The Red Sox made it interesting in the ninth, with Eric Patterson hitting an RBI triple. But with two men on and two outs, Niuman Romero grounded out, ending the game. The final score: Tampa Bay 3, Boston 2. Niemann picked up the win, Doubront the loss, and Rafael Soriano the save (his 23rd).
Two Red Sox had multiple-hit nights: Marco Scutaro and Daniel Nava. Both went 2-4 for the night, with Scutaro adding a walk and Nava driving in a run. The problem with the offense lay in the middle part of the lineup. Without Youkilis behind him, David Ortiz, who had doubled in the first inning (his only at-bat with Youkilis behind him), was intentionally walked three times, all in key situations. And in all three situations, including the ninth with the tying run on third base, Niuman Romero could not come up with a hit. Losing Youkilis effectively silenced the power of the Boston 3-4 hitters, and it made it impossible to drive in runs. The team left 11 men on base and were outhit by Tampa Bay seven to six.
For his second start ever, Felix Doubront pitched remarkably well. His curveball was especially effective. In 5.2 innings of work, he gave up five hits, two earned runs, and four walks while striking out three. He did a good enough job of keeping the Red Sox in the game, but the offense never picked him up. The bullpen pitched decently, especially Scott Atchinson (1.1 perfect innings of work, including a fly-out to get out of a bases-loaded situation in the sixth and a strikeout in the seventh), but Okajima’s home run allowed to Crawford proved to be the winning run. So once again, the loss really lies at the feet of the bullpen. There’s barely anything left of the All-Star Okajima from 2007, and the Red Sox were really relying on him to provide a bridge to their more elite pitchers and to help out against lefties. Unfortunately he hasn’t done it. The Red Sox need bullpen help, and they need it soon.
Forget the “injury bug.” This is the injury swarm. By the end of this game, less than half of the Red Sox on the field were on the Opening Day roster. Just when the Red Sox were turning things around, injury after injury started occurring. It’s discouraging and frustrating, both to fans and players, because nothing can be done. You just have to wait these injuries out and hope the Red Sox don’t fall too far behind in the standings in the meanwhile. But it was very discouraging to see Romero struggle so badly in key situations for the Red Sox. It does not appear that he is ready to be a professional ball player yet, although he has started just two games. The minor leaguers have to step up for the Red Sox now as more and more major leaguers go down. Hopefully Youkilis returns soon, but given Boston’s luck this season, that may not be the case. If that happens, Romero will get many more chances to redeem himself. Hopefully he can.