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Josh Beckett pitched only one bad inning Thursday afternoon at Fenway Park, but it was one inning too many. Beckett gave up four runs in the top of the fourth, and Kansas City Royals starter Luke Hochevar quieted the Boston offense to beat the Red Sox, 4-3, and give Kansas City the series split. With the loss, the Red Sox lost a half-game to the idle Yankees in the AL East.
Beckett cruised through his first three innings, facing the minimum nine batters and striking out four. His breaking ball had a nice 2-8 movement that confused Royals hitters. When they took what looked at first like an off-the-plate pitch, it often clipped the right-hand corner, picking up 18 called strikes. They fared little better when they swung at the pitch, often swinging over the ball’s sharp downward movement, part of 16 total swinging strikes.
Given a two-run lead to start the fourth, however, Beckett lost his command, walking the first two Royals after getting two strikes against each. Beckett also hung two strikes on DH Billy Butler, but then left a 1-2 fastball middle-in that Butler crushed to straight-away center for the three-run home run. It was the first home run Beckett had ever given up against the Royals.
The Royals did not quit with the home run, however, with right fielder Jeff Francoeur doubling on a liner to left field that Drew Sutton couldn’t quite snare. Third baseman Mike Moustakas doubled Francouer home five pitches later to put the Royals up 4-2.
Beckett allowed just a single and a walk through the next three innings, but the Red Sox never came back. Beckett suffered his fifth loss of the season after giving up four earned runs on six hits, and three strikeouts in seven innings.
Beckett’s loss marked his first at Fenway of the season, and his first ever against the Royals.
For the second time in the series, a Royals pitcher with a bad incoming record (6-8) and a high ERA (5.29) shut down the best offense in baseball. Despite Boston’s combined 1.188 OPS against him, Hochevar gave up just two earned runs on six hits (five singles), a walk and six strikeouts in seven innings. His command was incredible, getting 23 called strikes, and his slider often fooled Red Sox hitters with how quickly it would drop in the strike zone.
Hochevar’s only mistakes came in the third, when he allowed a single to Jason Varitek to lead off the inning. Yamaico Navarro doubled Varitek to third, then Jacoby Ellsbury singled to right to drive them both in and put Boston up 2-0. Adrian Gonzalez‘s single – one of two Thursday – put runners on first and third with one out, but Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz (a combined 0-8) both struck out to end the scoring opportunity.
Staked to a two-run lead after the fourth, Hochevar clamped down, allowing just a walk and a single over his final four innings of work. He picked up his seventh win of the season, lowering his ERA to 5.15.
Sterling, error-free infield defense by the Royals backed Hochevar up: the Red Sox grounded out 14 times, including 10 times against Hochevar.
No one was happier to see a pitching change than Dustin Pedroia, who could not hit off Hochevar in three appearances (he did walk and steal a base, however). Pedroia led off the eighth and hit a full-count inside fastball from reliever Greg Holland into the Green Monster seats, extending his hitting streak to 25 games and cutting the deficit to one run.
Sutton hit a one-out infield single off closer Joakim Soria in the ninth – Sutton’s second hit of the game – and Terry Francona pinch-hit Carl Crawford for Varitek. Crawford hit a 1-2 offering deep to right, but the ball died at the warning track for a loud second out of the inning. Navarro struck out for Soria’s 19th save of the season.
Kansas City continues to be the terrible team against whom Boston struggles. Perhaps it’s the Royals’ youth, or perhaps it’s the few Royals games in any given season making it hard to learn their pitchers. Whatever the reason, the Red Sox can ill-afford too many losses to last-place teams.
The Red Sox will face Kansas City once more this season: a four-game road series in mid-August. To stay on top of the AL East, the Red Sox will need to take care of business at Kaufmann Stadium.
Tags: Adrian Gonzalez, Billy Butler, Boston Red Sox, Carl Crawford, David Ortiz, Drew Sutton, Dustin Pedroia, Greg Holland, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Varitek, Jeff Francoeur, Joakim Soria, Josh Beckett, Kansas City Royals, Kevin Youkils, Luke Hochevar, Mike Moustakas, MLB, Yamaico Navarro