When Red Sox reliever Franklin Morales incited a ninth-inning dust-up by hitting Tampa Bay’s Luke Scott on the leg with a 97-mile-per-hour fastball, it seemed the shoving and shouting match that ensued was all the fight the Red Sox had in them in Friday night’s 7-4 loss to the Rays at Fenway Park.
“A guy got hit on the leg and boys will be boys,’’ was how Sox manager Bobby Valentine viewed the brouhaha. It elicited a much stronger reaction from Rays manager Joe Maddon who termed it “idiotic.’’
Frustration seemed to mount for the Sox, who failed to climb above the .500 mark once again.
They took a 1-0 lead in the first inning but Jon Lester frittered it away by serving up three homers.
Matt Joyce delivered the crushing blow with a third-inning grand slam that gave Rays a 4-1 lead. Lester, who dropped to 3-4, got tagged in the fourth for three more runs on back-to-back homers by Elliot Johnson (a two-run shot to center) and Carlos Pena (a solo shot to right) that made it 7-1.
“It wasn’t good,’’ Lester said of his latest pratfall at home, where in four starts he owns a 7.71 ERA.
“It looked like he had pretty good stuff going in and in the first inning he was looking pretty good,’’ Valentine said. “The strike zone started eluding him and a couple of lefthanders who don’t hit lefthanders all that well got him.’’
Lester said it was a struggle locating his pitches.
“When I was missing, I was missing, and when I was on the plate, I was in the middle,’’ he said. “They did a good job of working counts and getting hitters’ counts, and making me pay for my mistakes.
“The only at-bat the whole game where I felt like I threw the ball where I wanted to every pitch was the first inning against Luke Scott,’’ said Lester, who struck out Scott to end a 1-2-3 inning on eight pitches. “They did a good job of making me work, looking for their pitch, and not missing. It was one of those nights - frustrating.’’
After concluding a grueling stretch of 20 games in 20 days, it seemed the Red Sox appeared a little rusty from Thursday’s day of rest, their first since May 3.
After Kevin Youkilis ripped an RBI single to push across Mike Aviles with an unearned run off Tampa starter Alex Cobb, a 24-year-old Boston native, the Sox struggled, leaving eight men on base and going 3 for 11 with runners in scoring position.
After Lester departed having allowed seven runs on six hits and three walks, and three homers in four innings, Scott Atchison threw three scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and a pair of walks (one intentional), striking out two to keep his team in the game.
“Guys kept us in, no doubt,’’ Valentine said. “Atch and Matty Albers put up zeros and gave us a chance, gave us a pretty good opportunity against their bullpen because their starter was out then, too.’’
The Sox scratched out a run in the fifth and two in the sixth.
Adrian Gonzalez ripped an RBI double to left in the fifth that scored Scott Podsednik, who had a leadoff single, then recorded his first stolen base of the season. Gonzalez and David Ortiz, who walked, were stranded when Youkilis grounded to third, ending Cobb’s night after 96 pitches.
The Sox faced three relievers in the sixth, but only cobbled together two runs after Marlon Byrd hit an RBI single to right, scoring Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who walked and advanced on a free pass to Daniel Nava that ended J.P. Howell’s night after two batters.
Podsednik laid down a sacrifice bunt against Burke Badenhop that moved the runners up. Jake McGee relieved Badenhop after he hit Dustin Pedroia in the back. McGee got Ortiz on a towering pop to right.
Emotions boiled over in the top of the ninth when Morales got two outs, then proceeded to pitch inside to Scott, hitting him on the leg that cleared the benches but resulted in no ejections.
“You know what? [Scott didn’t] say anything to me,’’ said a contrite Morales. “He tried to look at me like ‘What happened?’ But I don’t try to go into the game to hit anybody. I missed the pitch. I [didn’t] try to do it on purpose.’’
Saltalamacchia quickly intervened and cut off Scott’s path to the mound.
“When you start walking toward the mound it means I need to get out in front and make sure I protect my guy,’’ he said.
It was all the fight the Red Sox had in them on this frustrating night in the Fens.
“I liked the spirit of the guys going out there,’’ said Valentine, who found himself in the middle of the scrum. “We had a little adrenaline going, guys had some adrenaline going, so that’s good. Nothing wrong with that.’’
So who got his adrenaline going? “Don’t need to go there,’’ Valentine said.