By the time manager John Farrell came face to face with plate umpire Jeff Nelson in the eighth inning Tuesday night at Fenway Park, the Red Sox’ frustrations had boiled over.
Hits had been scarce all night. Costly errors were mounting, rapidly turning a pitchers’ duel into a Twins runaway. Not one break seemed to go the Red Sox’ way.
Not the home run that Ryan Dempster had given up an inning earlier, which he thought an overeager fan in the Monster seats might have interfered with on its way out.
Not the case Farrell was trying to make for runner interference when catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia tried to turn a quick double play with first baseman Mike Napoli on a soft Ryan Doumit ground ball. But with Doumit running inside the first-base line, Napoli couldn’t grab the low return throw and it skipped by him.
Farrell immediately came out to contest the play. “[Doumit] steps on Napoli’s foot, clearly indicating he was inside the basepath,” Farrell said.
The conversation was fruitless.
“I’m still trying to figure out the explanation, I’ll leave it at that,” Farrell said. “But that 45-foot lane is there for a reason. He wasn’t in it. By the rules you’re out.”
Whether he had a case was irrelevant by then. No matter how much Farrell gestured, he couldn’t convince Nelson the first time he came out to argue it.
Saltalamacchia couldn’t either in a brief exchange behind the plate. When Farrell came back out a second time to protect Saltalamacchia, it only briefly paused a game that was effectively spiraling out of the Sox’ control.
The Twins were on their way to a four-run inning fueled by Red Sox miscues. Joe Mauer (2 for 4), Justin Morneau (2 for 4), and Trevor Plouffe had all ripped RBI hits and the blown-up Doumit double play allowed Morneau to score.
The Twins eventually beat Boston, 6-1, the Sox dropping four of their last five.
Working efficiently through seven shutout innings, Scott Diamond held the Sox in check. Jacoby Ellsbury (1 for 3), David Ortiz (1 for 4), Stephen Drew (1 for 3), and Saltalamacchia (1 for 2) were the only Sox to muster hits.
The Sox didn’t advance a runner past second until the ninth inning. From the time Drew singled in the third to the point at which Saltalamacchia smashed a 2-and-0 pitch deep into the Monster seats in the ninth, the Twins retired 18 straight Sox.
“Lived on the edge, stayed out of the middle of the plate,” Farrell said about Diamond. “Even when he got into a couple of fastball counts, he located well. For the time he was in there, I don’t think we had a guy advance past first base.”
Desperately needing a long outing from one of their starters, the Sox got the start they were looking for out of Dempster. In the five games since Clay Buchholz threw seven shutout innings against the Blue Jays May 1, no Sox starter had gone more than six innings.
Farrell had to use at least four relievers three times, including the five he called upon in the Sox’ 11-inning win over the Twins in the series opener. Relievers had combined to throw 18⅔ innings over the five previous games coming in.
“That’s your job as a starting pitcher, to go out there and do that,” Dempster said. “So I was happy with that, I just wish I could’ve pitched a little bit better and given us a chance to win the ballgame.”
Dempster was more than effective over his 7-plus innings, striking out eight to run his season total to 55, just one behind Buchholz for the team lead while also giving him the third-most in the American League.
But looking at the pitcher in the other dugout, he knew his margin of error would be slim.
“The way Diamond was throwing the ball and keeping us in check, you knew that eventually one run would be one run too many,” he said.
His miscues were minor — a leadoff double in the fifth by Doumit, who eventually came in on a Wilkin Ramirez single, and a solo homer by Doumit in the seventh — but they left him with a loss.
Pitching to Chris Parmelee after giving up the double to Doumit, Nelson called him for a balk, which allowed Doumit to take third.
“I looked at it,” he said. “I stopped. It was a split second but, you know, it happens. That’s not the reason we lost the game. I’ve just got to make better pitches.”
The pitch on the homer to Doumit was a 2-and-2 fastball. The play was ultimately reviewed, and ruled a homer.
“I thought maybe [the fan interfered], but I knew there was a chance it could have went over,” Dempster said. “I’ve just got to make a better pitch there, especially when you’re ahead in the count.”
Dempster easily could have gotten through the eighth had it not been for a pair of errors by third basemen Pedro Ciriaco, who came on for an ailing Will Middlebrooks at the start of the inning.
Middlebrooks was banged up making a diving catch on a foul pop by Parmelee near the Twins dugout in the fifth inning. He collided with catcher David Ross in the process. They both got up gingerly. Ross left the game a batter later, but Middlebrooks toughed it out before ultimately leaving with pain in his right side.
Ciriaco had played 39 games at third in his four big league seasons. But he let consecutive ground balls get by him to start the eighth, one a chopper off the bat of Brian Dozier to lead off the inning and the other a bouncer by Jamey Carroll, to make it first-and-third with no outs.
“I come every day with the mentality to play and practice and be ready and I just missed the ball,” Ciriaco said. “I work every day, and I’m a good player. I’ve just got to be more ready and next time make the plays.”
It was the kind of night in which every break felt like a bad one. At the same time, the things the Sox were able to control, they didn’t.
Disappointed, Dempster said, “You make your own breaks, too.”