Reporters asked manager Bobby Valentine only six questions Wednesday afternoon after the Texas Rangers beat the Red Sox, 10-9, at Fenway Park.
The Sox are a paint-by-numbers story these days. They lose a few, mix in a few wins to avoid total irrelevance, then lose a few more. Little changes, only the details of each game.
As the quick press conference ended, Valentine sighed and rose slowly from his chair. On his way back to the clubhouse, he softly punched a closed door. His anger, what there is left of it, is muted.
By the time Valentine returned to his office, Sox general manager Ben Cherington was waiting for another solemn conversation before the team left for the airport and the start of a 10-game road trip.
“It’s pretty rough right now,” second baseman Dustin Pedroia said as he zipped up his travel bag. “We can’t keep playing like this.”
The story Wednesday revolved around two decisions Valentine made that cost his team the game.
Down, 6-3, in the fifth inning, the Sox scored twice to get within a run. Carl Crawford tripled and scored on a double by Adrian Gonzalez. A passed ball eventually scored Gonzalez.
Red Sox starter Josh Beckett had pitched horrendously to that point and appeared spent after missing seven days with a sore lower back. But he was sent back to the mound for the sixth inning.
Valentine said that decision was influenced by his worn-out bullpen. He had only three relievers available and wanted Beckett to give him one more inning. The bottom of the Texas order was up.
But David Murphy singled before Geovany Soto drove a fastball over the wall in left-center for his first homer with the Rangers. When Valentine came out of the dugout to get Beckett, the crowd of 37,716 booed him. Then they booed Beckett as he walked off. The lung capacity of Sox fans must be increasing by the day.
Beckett allowed eight runs on eight hits, three of them home runs. He has two victories at Fenway all season, none since May 15.
“It’s tough,” said Beckett. “It’d be a lot better if we were winning two out of every three games. That’s what makes it tough. These are the guys I’ve got to come to work with every day.”
Down, 9-5, the Sox punched back. Pedroia singled off reliever Roy Oswalt to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning and scored on a double by Gonzalez. After Cody Ross drew a walk, Will Middlebrooks hit his second three-run homer in as many games, a shot off the middle billboard above the Monster Seats.
“He started me with two curveballs, two slow curveballs,’’ said Middlebrooks. “After the swing at the second one, I figured he’d try to blow a fastball by me up a little bit. He just didn’t quite get it as high as he wanted to.”
The rookie has 15 home runs in his first 73 games. To put that in some perspective, Ted Williams had 15 homers in his first 73 games in 1939.
“Something special there,” Ross said.
Clayton Mortensen, summoned from Triple A Pawtucket earlier in the day, had already pitched three innings but went back out for the ninth against the heart of the Texas order in a 9-9 game.
Valentine had closer Alfredo Aceves available but stayed with Mortensen.
Elvis Andrus walked on five pitches, bringing up Josh Hamilton. He was 5 for 12 in the series to that point, but Mortensen stayed in.
“I was going to see if we could get Clay to get Hamilton to swing at something out of the zone, which he has those pitches and [Hamilton] is an aggressive hitter,” said Valentine. “Didn’t work.”
Hamilton singled to right and Andrus went to third. Aceves was finally called in and Adrian Beltre delivered a sacrifice fly. Of the 15 runners Aceves has inherited, seven have scored.
The only other reliever the Red Sox had, Valentine said, was lefty Andrew Miller. Valentine was trying to save somebody for the possibility of extra innings.
“Everybody else was basically shut down today,” he said.
The Sox got a one-out double from Ross in the ninth against Texas closer Joe Nathan. But the righthander went to his slider against Middlebrooks and Ryan Lavarnway, striking them out on seven pitches.
The Red Sox are little more than a speed bump for the Rangers. Texas is 25-12 against the Sox since the start of the 2009 season, 11-6 at Fenway. The Rangers have won 13 of the last 22 games between the teams.
“Any loss at this point is tough,” Pedroia said. “We’re fighting. We’re playing hard. It’s not for a lack of effort. We just need to find a way at the end to score some runs.”
The Sox were 4-6 on the homestand, dropping five of the last seven games, and fell to 29-34 at Fenway.
On a day when Crawford, Pedroia, Gonzalez, Ross, and Middlebrooks accounted for 8 runs, 10 hits, and 8 RBIs, the Sox lost again.
“I don’t think it’s deflating,” said Valentine, whose expression belied his words. “I think the offense feels good when they’re scoring runs. They think they’re swinging the bats well and that they can come back.”
Ross, who was 3 for 4 with a homer, tried to find something good to say.
“Hopefully we can go on the road and play better,” he said. “We have four in Cleveland, three in Baltimore and three in New York. It’s got to start tomorrow. We can’t look too far ahead.”