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Dice-K dazzles, 'pen stumbles

Dice-K dazzles, 'pen stumbles

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SEATTLE -- Eight innings of dazzling pitching by Daisuke Matsuzaka was not enough for the Red Sox to snap out of their mysterious funk at Safeco Field and avoid being swept in a three-game series for the first time all season.

On a day the Red Sox couldn't come up with the big hit (0-for-8 with runners in scoring position), Jose Lopez got one for the Mariners, delivering a walk-off double off the wall in left-center field in the bottom of the 11th inning that handed Boston a tough 2-1 defeat.

It was the eighth loss in a row for the Sox at Safeco Field, dating back to July 22, 2006.

"At the wrong times, we hit balls at the wrong people," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "We pitched the ball real well early and gave us a chance. We just couldn't get it together offensively."

Joel Pineiro, who twisted his right ankle two days ago in stretching exercises, was thrust back into action for the 11th. With one out, Ichiro Suzuki walked. When Ichiro reaches base in the late innings, it often spells doom for the opposition.

Such was the case this time, as Lopez roped one that Manny Ramirez slammed into the wall to pursue, but couldn't make a play on. The ball bounced around and Ichiro roared home.

It would have been a highlight reel catch for Ramirez.

"It was tough," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "We're in no doubles already, so he was back pretty far anyway. He gave it his best shot."

So did Pineiro, who did not use the ankle as an excuse in suffering a loss to his former team.

"In my heart, I felt great," Pineiro said. "I wanted to go out there, I wanted to get the ball. The bullpen had pitched [a lot] the last couple of days. I got a walk and a I hung a pitch. When you make a mistake, that's what happens. I'm not a guy to find excuses about my ankle or this or that."

And so it was that a road trip that began with promise -- four out of six in Atlanta and San Diego -- ended with a 4-5 record.

Why is Safeco turning into a house of horrors for the Red Sox?

"It's the way they've played us. It's not the ballpark," said Francona. "We've played, it seems like, more than our share of games here and walked off not feeling real good. It doesn't have anything to do with the ballpark. They've played us very tough here."

Matsuzaka deserved a better fate than a no-decision, allowing three hits and a run while striking out eight.

"He was great," Francona said of Matsuzaka. "The run they got, he made a great pitch on Ichiro, jammed him bad and it fell in. Other than that, he was great."

The Red Sox have scored a total of seven runs in Matsuzaka's last six starts, not that he was about to bemoan that fact.

"As for my thoughts on run support, I feel like I pitch better when it's a tighter game, so I can't complain about that," Matsuzaka said through translator Masa Hoshino.

The Mariners nearly won it in the ninth, putting runners at the corners with one out and the middle of the order coming up. But Jonathan Papelbon (1 2/3 innings, no hits, two strikeouts) got consecutive popups out of Richie Sexson and Ben Broussard.

The Red Sox tied the game in the top of the seventh on a sacrifice fly by Coco Crisp. In fact, Boston had a chance to take the lead in that frame. David Ortiz stepped to the plate with two on and one out, but he flew out to center. Ramirez did the same, ending the threat.

"Earlier in the game, it seemed like we were hitting the ball all over the ballpark and had nothing to show for it," Francona said. "Even on the run we scored, it looked like Coco leaned all over it and he didn't quite get it."

Opportunity again came calling for the Sox in the eighth. Kevin Youkilis led off with a walk and reached second on a passed ball. With two outs, Mariners manager Mike Hargrove called for an intentional walk of J.D. Drew. That brought the ice-cold Julio Lugo to the plate. The shortstop extended his drought to 0-for-31 by striking out.

Francona didn't use one of his lefty pinch-hitters at that time because the Mariners had a lefty warming up in the bullpen.

Matsuzaka was clearly the bright spot on this lost trip to Seattle. He set down the first eight batters he faced, but Jamie Burke snapped that string by lining a double to center that Crisp tried to make a diving catch on. Ichiro lined one softly up the middle for an RBI single, giving the Mariners the lead.

It was the first time Suzuki got a hit against Matsuzaka in the Major Leagues after going 8-for-34 against him in Japan.

All in all, Matsuzaka found his groove in June, going 2-2 with a 1.59 ERA. Overall, his ERA shrank from 4.83 to 3.80.

"As I've said before, when it comes to my personal condition, I always feel that there's room for improvement," said Matsuzaka. "But I will say that things seem to be getting a little bit better. My ERA was a concern and I wanted to make an effort to bring it back into the threes, but as far as I how I feel about my condition, there's not a big difference from the beginning of the month and now."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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