Pitchers go through fielding drills nearly every day in spring training, a routine that usually ends once the season starts. But the Red Sox had their pitchers on the field before a game during their last homestand to brush up on fundamentals.
John Lackey, who was starting that day, was excused.
Still, Lackey knows better than to make the kind of mistake he did on Thursday night. His throwing error in the sixth inning led to four unearned runs and a 5-3 victory for the Minnesota Twins before a crowd of 31,571 at Fenway Park.
The Sox have lost three straight and six of their last seven games, and for the first time this season have dropped into second place in the American League East. The slide has coincided with sloppy defense. The Sox committed two errors on Thursday and have 11 in their last seven games.
“We’ve got to take care of the ball. That’s a big part of winning ballgames, pitching and defense,” second baseman Dustin Pedroia said.
Lackey (1-3) handled the pitching part pretty well, going a season-best seven innings and striking out eight. He walked one and allowed six hits.
“Felt I reached really well,” Lackey said. “It’s not real complicated. Just got to make that one play and win the game.”
Lackey allowed a run in the fifth inning, then struck out two batters to leave a runner stranded on second. But there was no escape in the sixth.
Joe Mauer singled to center to start the inning. Justin Morneau then walked with one out.
Lackey had a chance to get out of the inning when Trevor Plouffe hit a ball back to the mound. But instead of starting a double play, Lackey threw wide of second base and the ball went into center field.
“Just didn’t make a good throw,” Lackey said. “I didn’t have a real good grip on it. Probably should have reset and just thrown it to first and took an out. Yeah, that’s all on me.”
Mauer scored and Morneau went to third. When Ryan Doumit lined to right, Shane Victorino made a strong throw to the plate. But Morneau slid under the tag of catcher David Ross.
Lackey’s next pitch was a fastball on the inner half of the plate to Oswaldo Arcia, who had earlier tripled. He drove it into the visitors’ bullpen in right and the Twins had a 5-2 lead in a span of four pitches.
“The errant throw opened the door for them,” Sox manager John Farrell said.
Lackey retired the side in order in the seventh. He left having thrown 102 pitches, an impressive 74 for strikes.
“Most of the night felt really good. Was locating well, had good stuff,” Lackey said. “One play kind of ruined it all.”
Lackey’s not alone. The Sox committed three errors in their first 17 games. They have 19 in 18 games since.
Kevin Correia (4-2) and three relievers also made it a frustrating night at the plate for the Sox. They left 10 runners on base, at least one in every inning.
The Sox took a 1-0 lead in the third inning thanks to some hustle by Victorino with two outs.
He lined a ball into right field and took second when Arcia was slow to play it. Pedroia drove the next pitch to center field for an RBI single.
Stephen Drew added an RBI single in the fourth inning. He has 11 RBIs in his last 11 games.
After the Twins took the lead, Mike Napoli doubled to left field in the bottom of the sixth inning and scored on a single by Daniel Nava.
The final two innings were especially painful.
Nava drew a walk off Jared Burton in the eighth inning before shortstop Eduardo Escobar booted a ground ball off the bat of Will Middlebrooks. Burton then struck out Drew and pinch hitter Mike Carp to end the inning.
Twins closer Glen Perkins walked Jacoby Ellsbury to start the ninth inning. Victorino struck out looking, as did Pedroia.
Pedroia dropped his bat at the plate and wheeled to argue with Lance Barksdale. He uncharacteristically barked at the umpire for several seconds.
Pedroia thought the final pitch, the ninth of his at-bat, was inside.
“We didn’t get that big hit,” he said. “We played hard. One swing away from winning the ballgame.”
Perkins, who has eight saves, got David Ortiz to line to Morneau at first to end the game.
Ortiz was 0 for 5, ending five innings and leaving five runners on base. He is hitless in his last 13 at-bats, stranding 10 runners. Regression was inevitable after Ortiz hit .440 with 17 RBIs in his first 13 games off the disabled list.
But Ortiz believes his cold streak will end soon because he hit the ball hard in his last two at-bats.
“Baseball gods take cover,” he said. “You know what I’m saying? Nothing much you can do. I can tell you one thing, that ball found Morneau. He was right there.”
Ortiz was talking about himself. But he had what seemed like good advice for his teammates, too.
“Come back tomorrow and have the same approach, same swing. Just a different direction,” Ortiz said. “Hopefully it doesn’t happen the whole season, you know? But it happens. Just keep on banging.”