The Red Sox generated some legitimate excitement at Fenway Park for a few minutes Tuesday night.
Rookie Will Middlebrooks pinch hit in the seventh inning and lined a three-run home run just over the wall in left field to bring the Sox within a run of the Texas Rangers.
A team that so rarely comes from behind late in games had a chance and the crowd of 38,416, the largest of the season, came to life.
But the Sox followed the same old script, poor pitching and missed opportunities, leading to a 6-3 loss. The only difference was some drama provided by Dustin Pedroia.
With his team down by two runs in the eighth inning, Pedroia checked his swing on a two-strike pitch, then turned to his left.
When he turned back, Pedroia was shocked to learn that first base umpire Paul Nauert ruled it a swing on appeal. Replays showed that Pedroia appeared to hold up.
“It looked like he checked his swing from our vantage point,” manager Bobby Valentine said. “Can’t get it back.”
As he walked slowly back to the dugout, Pedroia yelled at Nauert. The umpire then held up his hand, saying he had heard enough. Pedroia sat as close as he could to first base and kept shouting.
Pedroia did not look at Nauert when he took the field in the ninth inning. But he was ejected after five pitches, his anger bubbling over.
Valentine did his best to join Pedroia in the clubhouse but Nauert would not eject him as he jumped around and waved his arms.
“I was pretty angry and supporting my guy. Probably said more to him than I said other times and gotten thrown out,” Valentine said. “He wasn’t going to throw me out unless I made a complete fool of myself or punched him or something.”
Pedroia, whose only other ejection came in 2008, was not available after the game. Shortstop Mike Aviles said Pedroia was angrier than he ever had witnessed before.
“People might think we’re going through the motions. But that’s not the case,” Aviles said. “We’re coming to the park trying to find ways to win. That’s a perfect example of how much guys care. It’s late in the game and Pedey’s up there’s battling. He’s trying not to give away an at-bat. For him to get fired-up like that, it just shows you we don’t think our season is over.”
Expletive Deleted Theater didn’t help much. The Sox allowed a run in the ninth and Joe Nathan had a quick bottom of the inning for his 22d save. The Sox slipped back under .500 and are 4-5 on a homestand that ends today.
Jon Lester (5-10) was brilliant for five innings then bad for two, allowing Texas to score four runs. The Sox are 8-15 in games he has started this season.
“I can’t keep talking about being frustrated. It’s like beating a dead horse,” Lester said.
The lefthander started the game with five shutout innings, allowing just two singles thanks to a cut fastball that was darting across the bottom of the strike zone.
Nine of the first 15 outs Lester recorded were on groundballs. Three others were strikeouts.
The tenor of his outing changed in the next two innings.
David Murphy started the sixth with a double to right field. Lester then left a fastball up in the strike zone and Ian Kinsler lined it high off the wall for an RBI single.
Kinsler then scored on a single by Josh Hamilton.
Lester shouted at umpire Lance Barrett on his way to the dugout, believing 2-and-2 pitches to both Murphy and Hamilton should have been called third strikes.
The lead grew to 4-0 in the seventh thanks to crisp execution by the Rangers.
Michael Young drew a walk with one out, Lester missing three times after getting ahead 1-and-2. Texas manager Ron Washington then called a hit-and-run. As Young broke for second, Pedroia headed for the base to cover.
Geovany Soto hit a grounder through the vacant space and Young went to third. What could have been a double play wasn’t.
A sacrifice fly to left field by Murphy scored Young. Lester couldn’t end the inning, walking rookie Mike Olt, who had struck out twice.
With Lester at 116 pitches, Valentine replaced him with Mark Melancon. Kinsler repeated what he did in the sixth, lining an RBI single off the wall.
“My past three starts, I feel like I’ve thrown the ball better than I have all year. I’m 0-2,” Lester said.
Ryan Dempster, who shut the Red Sox out for seven innings while pitching for the Cubs on June 15, took a shutout into the seventh in his second start for the Rangers.
With two outs and a runner on first, Ryan Kalish grounded one to second and Kinsler couldn’t come up with the ball on the backhand. The error allowed Valentine to send up Middlebrooks in place of Nick Punto.
He launched the first pitch he saw, a hanging slider, just over the wall for his 14th home run.
“When you’re put in that position as a pinch hitter, you have to drive in runs,” said Middlebrooks, who has 51 RBIs in 72 games. “I was just looking for a pitch up in the zone and it happened to be the first pitch.”
Beyond that, the Sox did little offensively. They had three doubles in the first four innings, two by Cody Ross, but could not get Lester the lead.
When Crawford doubled in the first inning, he wandered off the base and was picked off.
“I was looking forward to big things that inning. Like Carl said, just caught him a little sleeping there,” Valentine said.Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.