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Cody Ross slammed his helmet down in frustration before sharing a few choice words with home plate umpire Larry Vanover after making the final out on a called third strike. And for good reason.
With the tying run on second and the go-ahead run on first, Ross stood helplessly at the plate as Vanover rung him up on a ball in the left-hand batter’s box to hand the Boston Red Sox a 1-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Patriots Day. That wasn’t the only source of frustration on the day for the Red Sox, though, who gave up the only run on a bases-loaded walk and mustered only four hits against James Shields.
Daniel Bard’s solid start was only marred by his inability to throw strikes with two outs in the seventh inning. After allowing only three hits through 6.2 innings, Bard walked the light hitting shortstop Sean Rodriguez on a full count, gave up a single to Desmond Jennings, then threw eight straight balls to Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria to walk in what turned out to be the game-winning run. Bard ended the day having given up one run on four hits, racking up seven strikeouts offset by seven walks, none more costly than the last two.
In fairness, Bard was clearly tired and struggling with his command when manager Bobby Valentine decided to leave him in the game with the bases loaded after having thrown 107 pitches. After the game, Valentine admitted this was a mistake, saying, “It was the wrong decision, obviously. I wanted to let him know right there that I thought he could get himself out of a jam.”
Apparently it was Valentine who wasn’t so “physically or emotionally into the game” this Patriots Day.
Shields pitched into the ninth inning without giving up any runs, limiting the Red Sox to just four hits — all singles — in 8.1 innings with five K’s and just two walks. He recorded 15 outs via the ground ball while only giving up four fly balls. Unlike Valentine, Rays manager Joe Maddon knew when to lift his starter, taking Shields out in favor of closer Fernando Rodney after he walked Dustin Pedroia with one down in the bottom of the ninth. Rodney recorded his fourth save in four chances.
Despite being confounded all day by Shields, the Red Sox still found themselves with a chance to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth. Pedroia represented the tying run after drawing a walk from Shields, advancing to second when he was running on a 3-2 pitch that Adrian Gonzalez grounded out to first against Rodney for the second out. David Ortiz was then issued an intentional walk to put the winning run on first, leaving it up to Ross to tie the game with a two-out hit.
As it turned out, though, it was never really up to Ross. Instead, Vanover, the home plate umpire, decided to take the bat out of his hands entirely. The Red Sox centerfielder (with Jacoby Ellsbury on the disabled list) stood with the bat on his shoulder and took three called strikes that never seemed to cross the plate, stranding the tying and winning runs.
Unsurprisingly, the Red Sox took to the media after the game to pick their bone with Vanover. Ross deemed it “unacceptable,” wondering how umpires “can make bad calls all day and they aren’t going to be held accountable for it.”
Gonzalez was slightly more specific, saying, “Those pitches that were called on Cody, that’s just not right. They’re in the left-handed hitter’s box and the way I see it, we missed the playoffs by one game last year, and if he walks there how he should have, Sweeney gets a hit and we wind up winning, it could make a difference… You look at the video, the over-the-top view and those pitches are in the left-handed batter’s box, and they’re not even close. They don’t start close and they don’t end close so, it’s unfortunate for Cody to have to end the game like that.”
The Red Sox will now host the Texas Rangers for two games at Fenway Park before playing the New York Yankees. Jon Lester and Josh Beckett will be on the mound to face the hot-hitting Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton.