With two on and one out and the home team down by a run, the ball soared off Ramirez's bat and a packed house of 36,913 roared with approval. And then they groaned in disbelief.
Ramirez's well-struck drive tailed to the deepest part of Fenway Park, giving White Sox center fielder Jerry Owens just enough time to make a terrific catch in front of the side railing on the wall of the Boston bullpen. Kevin Youkilis then struck out to end the inning, prompting more groans in what wound up a 4-2 loss to the White Sox. The game started nearly two hours late because of rain and the Red Sox left the park still feeling a little soggy.
"If Manny's ball goes a foot the other way, I'm sitting here saying it's nice to get a big hit like that and that was a very, very good swing," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "We came up empty. It hurts."
Look no further than Ramirez's near miss to sum up what wasn't just a defining night in a game, but in a stretch of baseball in which the Red Sox have sputtered.
The Sox are now 3-5 with three games left on this 11-game homestand. With a chance to boost their lead over the Yankees back up to eight games in the American League East, the Sox instead maintained their seven-game edge while slipping to 20-24 since May 30.
Though the Red Sox stung 11 hits, they didn't seem to add up on a night Daisuke Matsuzaka fell to 11-7.
"When you get a lot of hits, and you don't score runs, you're not going to win games," said Sox shortstop Julio Lugo. "This was a tough game for us. That's all. We put some balls in play, we didn't score runs."
But this was by no means a loss you could hang on the offense. Matsuzaka, as he readily acknowledged after the game, was inconsistent. In fact, it was the third start in a row that Matsuzaka (five-plus innings, two hits, three runs, six walks, six strikeouts) was less than stellar.
This, coming immediately after a six-start run in which he was nothing short of brilliant.
"Just from the outset today, I wasn't able to throw any strikes," Matsuzaka said through interpreter Masa Hoshino. "So that was the difference."
For the second time in three starts, Matsuzaka did not have a side session in between. The Red Sox are trying to help the right-hander avoid fatigue in his first year of pitching in a five-man rotation.
|In the first eight games of their 11-game homestand, the Red Sox are batting .267 (16-for-60) with runners in scoring position. The only game in which they didn't have runners in scoring position came Monday night during Kason Gabbard's 4-0 complete-game gem vs. the Royals.|
|7/19||White Sox||1-for-7||White Sox 4-2|
|7/15||Blue Jays||2-for-9||Blue Jays 2-1|
|7/14||Blue Jays||3-for-7||Red Sox 9-4|
|7/13||Blue Jays||2-for-9||Blue Jays 6-5|
|7/12||Blue Jays||5-for-8||Red Sox 7-4|
"I am not allowing myself to get too anxious about my preparation between starts and achieving [a consistent routine]," Matsuzaka said. "Throwing on four days' rest is of course new to me but I am doing my best to keep up the routine that I had while I was in Japan, and the team has allowed me to do the same."
Matsuzaka labored in the first inning, throwing 32 pitches. After retiring the first two batters, Matsuzaka walked Jim Thome and Paul Konerko. That set up A.J. Pierzynski for an RBI single to right field.
If there was one positive, it's that Matsuzaka appeared to be more refreshed than he was in his last two outings.
"Something we all need to take from this is we see some velocity creep back up there and there was definitely life in his body, life in his arm and he had some power to all his stuff," said pitching coach John Farrell. "I think because he felt strong, at times there might have been a little bit of overthrowing that caused some of that erratic control, particularly in the first inning. But he gave us an opportunity to stay in the game and get things untracked from an offensive standpoint."
The Red Sox put together their first rally in the bottom of the second, getting singles by Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek to lead off the inning. With one out, Lugo tied the game with a fielder's-choice grounder to short. Coco Crisp legged out an infield hit to keep things alive for Dustin Pedroia, who promptly ripped an RBI single to right to give Boston a 2-1 lead.
Matsuzaka had a one-hitter going after five but he quickly lost control in the sixth, walking the first three batters he faced. Pierzynski again came up big, drilling a 2-2 pitch under the glove of first baseman Youkilis and into right for a two-run single that put the White Sox back in front at 3-2.
"Questionable call on a 1-2 pitch with Pierzynski led to a two-run single," Farrell said. "Tonight, those two runs that gave them the 3-2 lead was the difference. I think the zone appeared to be consistent for both sides. Typically when a pitcher is around the plate a little more in those innings where their control can elude them a little bit, you're probably not going to get borderline calls. That might have been the case in that situation."
With Matsuzaka at 109 pitches and in a serious jam, Francona opted to go to Manny Delcarmen. The move paid dividends, as the White Sox were held down for the rest of the inning.
After Ramirez's drive for naught in the seventh, Hideki Okajima surrendered an insurance homer to Konerko in the top of the eighth. It was the first time Okajima has been taken deep since his first Major League pitch to John Buck on Opening Day in Kansas City.
"He's been awesome," Francona said of Okajima. "On his changeup, just a little too much of the plate and a strong hitter hit it. And it's a big run in the game."
The Red Sox went down 1-2-3 in the ninth against White Sox closer Bobby Jenks to slip to 1-35 when they trail after eight innings.
"We're getting hits, but we're either not stringing them together or getting two out hits," Francona said. "I think that it's usually a number of things. When you're going through things, it's some bad luck. You can make your own luck or breaks. We're not doing enough right now to be one run in better in a lot of these games."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.