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Athletics’ Norberto Halts Red Sox Comeback in Ninth

Oakland Athletics second baseman Jemile Weeks drives in two in the fourth inning of Tuesday's game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Down two with two men on in the bottom of the ninth, Kevin Youkilis grabbed a batting helmet. The oft-injured Youkilis didn’t start Tuesday against the Oakland Athletics due to back stiffness, but no one left on the bench gave the Boston Red Sox a better chance of tying and possibly winning the game.

Unfortunately, Youkilis just couldn’t get loose enough to bat. The almost-comeback ended with the “almost” fully intact. The Athletics beat the Red Sox, 5-3.

Norberto Dominates in Two-Thirds Inning

Down 5-1 entering the ninth, the Red Sox finally broke through against reliever Grant Balfour. Cody Ross led off with a double, his third hit and second double of the game, and the Red Sox loaded the bases on Marlon Byrd‘s one-out single and Nick Punto‘s third walk of the game.

Sensing Balfour’s nervousness, the Fenway Park crowd did their best to rattle him, repeatedly chanting his name in a chorus of sing-song mockeries. The fans may very well have succeeded, because Balfour gave up a two-RBI single to Mike Aviles to cut the Athletics’ lead to 5-3.

Lefty Jordan Norberto relieved Balfour following Aviles’ hit, but without Youkilis the Red Sox went with Lars Anderson, who had only entered the game one inning prior. Andersen had yet to get a hit off a lefty in his career, and Norberto struck him out easily on four pitches.

Dustin Pedroia, who’d scored Boston’s only run through the first eight innings on an Adrian Gonzalez RBI ground out in the fourth, followed Anderson. Norberto got Pedroia to ground into an easy fielder’s choice at second base, ending the game and giving Norberto his first save of the season.

Athletics Get to Doubront in Fourth

Felix Doubront baffled Athletics hitters throughout his start with off-speed pitches. His curveballs broke sharply, his breaking balls danced in the zone. He struck out eight Tuesday – including the side in the first – mostly because of the deuce.

But Doubront couldn’t throw his fastball with the same consistency, and it cost him both pitches and runs. He needed 50 pitches to get through the first two innings, and the Athletics responded to his 1-2-3 third by breaking the game open an inning later.

Up 1-0 with two men on and two down in the fourth, shortstop Cliff Pennington doubled to left-center, plating a run and putting men on second and third. Pennington entered Tuesday’s game batting .200, but he finished 2-for-4.

Following Pennington’s double, Doubront left another fastball up in the zone to second baseman Jemile Weeks, and Weeks singled to center to score two more and make it 4-0 Athletics. Weeks promptly stole third, then came home on a wild pitch to make it 5-0.

Those five runs would be more than enough for Athletics starter Jarrod Parker, whose biting slider and change-up kept the Red Sox off-balance for 6.2 innings. The Red Sox put seven base runners on against Parker, but he held them hitless with runners in scoring position.

Parker earned his first win of the season, giving up one run on four hits, two walks, a hit-by-pitch and four strikeouts. Doubront took his first loss, giving up five earned runs on six hits, two walks and two wild pitches in just four innings.

Red Sox Bullpen Puts Up Zeroes

Boston’s worrisome bullpen performed quite admirably Tuesday, with three relievers combining on a five-inning shutout. Scott Atchison handled the lion’s share, giving up just two singles while striking out one in two innings.

Rich Hill and Matt Albers pitched the final three innings, striking out five. Hill gave up a one-out double in the seventh, then retired the next four he faced.

Albers gave up a lead-off single to Pennington in the top of the ninth, and Pennington moved to third on a ground out and the Athletics’ fourth stolen base of the game (the Red Sox stole none). Albers induced a ground out with the infield drawn in to hold Pennington at third, then struck out Josh Reddick swinging on a breaking ball in the dirt.

With everything – the ball, the dirt, the grass, the players, the fans – slick from Tuesday’s constant drizzle, Albers’ pitch bounced away from Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Reddick delayed a moment before taking off for the open first base, giving Saltalamacchia just enough time to track the ball down halfway between third base and the on-deck circle and make a run-saving throw to first for the final out.

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