Bullpen woes plague Sox in loss to O's

Bullpen woes plague Sox in loss to O's

BALTIMORE -- It would be easy for Brad Mills to pile on after the Red Sox completed a 10-day, 10-game road trip with another disheartening loss, their sixth in eight games.

But in deference to the veteran ballclub he's running in place of Terry Francona, Mills opted to spin some glass-half-full optimism as the Red Sox left Camden Yards after being swept in two games, losing to the Orioles, 6-3, on Wednesday.

Criticize the bullpen that squandered left-hander Jon Lester's decent outing and wasted a pair of home runs? No way. Question a team that seems to have fallen into a funk? Not a chance. Instead, Mills, who is managing the Red Sox while Francona attends his mother-in-law's funeral in Arizona, played the role of steadying influence as his team packed up to return to Fenway Park.

"I think the whole road trip, we battled each of those games," said Mills after the Red Sox went 4-6 on their trek through Detroit, Minnesota and Baltimore. "To sit here and say we did lose five out of six, but the guys battled each of those games. ... We battled right through that. ... We're going to be OK."

Lester's strong six innings and solo home runs by Jason Varitek and Mike Lowell went for naught Wednesday as Jay Payton hit a grand slam off reliever Hideki Okajima in the seventh. The Red Sox were almost out of the inning before a seemingly innocuous play turned the tables.

"That was the inning. We had our two outs and Dustin [Pedroia] had a tough play," Mills said. "We thought we were getting the matchups we wanted there."

Javier Lopez got two quick outs, but Pedroia couldn't snare Freddie Bynum's hard grounder in short right field. Craig Hansen (0-2) relieved and gave up a Guillermo Quiroz single and walked Brian Roberts before being replaced by Okajima. Payton lined the left-hander's second pitch into the left-field seats, erasing a 3-2 Boston lead.

"I took a deep angle, because it was probably going to get through," Pedroia said. "I slid for it, because the lip was right there, and it kind of kicked up on me. I had it in my glove and I think my knee hit my glove, and the ball just came out."

That was enough for any Boston momentum to unravel.

"The floodgates opened on one swing of the bat, really," Varitek said of the 0-1 fastball Payton hit for his third homer of the year and fourth career grand slam. "That was the difference. Jay did a good job of staying back ... and he hit it out for four runs."

Lester, who was pulled after giving up two runs on five hits, walking two and striking out four -- the fourth straight start in which the lefty has allowed three or fewer earned runs -- took the loss in stride.

"We've got a good bullpen," he said. "You just put your trust in them and let them get the job done."

But the bullpen couldn't hold the lead. And Lester still might have been around had he not thrown first-pitch balls to six of the eight hitters he faced in the previous two innings.

"[Pitching coach John Farrell] and [Mills] saw something that I didn't see or whatever," said Lester when asked it he could have pitched into the seventh after throwing 86 pitches. "It's their call. If they thought I was capable enough to go out there for the seventh, they would have run me back out there."

A first-inning RBI single by Pedroia scored Jacoby Ellsbury, who led off with a single and stole second base. Varitek made it 2-0 with his fourth homer, a shot to center off a 3-2 Daniel Cabrera pitch in the fifth, and Lowell's solo shot in the sixth extended the lead.

Manny Ramirez went 1-for-4 and remained stuck at 498 career home runs heading into Friday's Interleague series against Milwaukee at Fenway Park. But Ramirez contributed defensively in the fourth with a highlight-reel gem.

With runners on first and second and one out, Kevin Millar drove a ball deep to left and Ramirez made a fully-extended running grab of the drive on warning track. Ramirez's momentum carried him two steps toward the wall, then he used his right foot to propel himself up the wall. After high-fiving a fan in the front row, he uncorked a perfect relay throw to Pedroia, who doubled Aubrey Huff up at first to end the inning and the threat.

"I thought I was not going to have any chance to throw the guy out at first, but I did it anyway," Ramirez said. "I just got a bad jump, but I never give up. I go there and I caught it."

When someone mentioned Ramirez's penchant for crowd-pleasing showmanship, he merely smiled and said, "I think that's part of the game. This is a game -- you've got to go, enjoy it and have fun."

Ramirez's teammates -- who gathered around a television camera in the dugout to watch replays -- were certainly impressed. They didn't need to be prompted to heap praise on Ramirez's spectacular play.

"That's Manny being Manny -- talking about Gold Glove and playing better defense this year and he's doing it," Lester said.

After the game, Mills was amazed by what transpired.

"Manny -- you see something new all the time," Mills said. "Somebody in the dugout said, 'I've seen it all now.' It was a great catch."

Pete Kerzel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.