Red Sox manager John Farrell said before the game he didn’t expect many runs to score at Fenway Park Friday night, not with Jon Lester facing Max Scherzer, the co-ace of the Tigers.
That was an easy call. But it was just as predictable the Red Sox would be on the sharp end of a 1-0 loss.
The Sox aren’t the worst offensive team in the American League, but they must be the most maddening. It was all there again before a restless crowd of 37,225: poor at-bats with runners in scoring position, strategic questions, and a hole at the bottom of the lineup that is getting deeper.
The Sox were held to three hits, all singles, in getting shut out for the third time this season. At 20-21, they are back under .500 and fell to 10-12 at home.
Against teams with a winning record, the Sox are a telling 8-13. They also are 5-10 in games decided by one run.
“I really didn’t think one was going to stand up tonight. But it did,’’ Lester said.
Lester (4-5) and three relievers did their part, holding an explosive Detroit offense to six hits and one run, that coming in the first inning. But the Red Sox did little against Scherzer (6-1) and the Detroit bullpen.
The last seven Red Sox went in order.
“To think that one run in the first inning was going to be the difference in this one, probably didn’t anticipate that,” Farrell said.
Lester went five innings and 94 pitches, his night shortened by a long first inning, then a rain delay in the fourth. He allowed one run on four hits with three walks and seven strikeouts.
The Tigers took a 1-0 lead during a 27-pitch first inning as a defensive mistake and control issues caused Lester problems.
Ian Kinsler hit a low line drive to third base with one out and the ball got through Will Middlebrooks after striking him on the right index finger. Kinsler was credited with a hit. Lester then walked Miguel Cabrera before striking out Victor Martinez for the second out.
Torii Hunter lined a first-pitch fastball to center field and Kinsler scored with Cabrera going to third. Counting postseason play, Hunter is 15 for 38 against Lester.
Lester walked Austin Jackson to load the bases before falling behind Alex Avila, 3 and 0. But he came back to strike out the Detroit catcher to finally end the inning.
“Got myself into a little bit of a jam there. Minimized the damage,” Lester said.
Lester dropped his earned run average to 2.67. He has given up four earned runs over 20 innings in his last three starts and struck out 30. A lack of run support has cost him a better record.
“Can’t control that,” he said.
Scherzer retired 10 of the first 11 batters he faced, five by strikeout. The only Red Sox batter to reach was Mike Napoli, who drew a leadoff walk in the second inning. But Mike Carp grounded into a double play.
The game was delayed by rain for 47 minutes in the top of the fourth but both starters stayed in the game. Scherzer got the first two outs in the bottom of the fourth before David Ortiz lined a changeup to the gap in right field.
Napoli drew another walk and the Red Sox had their first runner in scoring position. But Carp struck out on three pitches, swinging at a curveball to end the inning.
The Red Sox mounted another threat against Scherzer in the sixth when David Ross singled and Dustin Pedroia walked.
Grady Sizemore worked the count full and hit the ball hard. But it was right to Kinsler at second base and he started a double play.
Farrell passed on having Sizemore bunt.
“Knowing what the strengths of the individual are, just wanted to let him swing away right there,” he said.
The Tigers intentionally walked Ortiz. Napoli then struck out on four pitches, the last a changeup on the outside corner that was taken.
“That’s a big at-bat and I didn’t get it done,” said Napoli, 1 for 17 in his career against Scherzer.
Carp led off the seventh with a single to left and that knocked Scherzer out of the game. Hard-throwing righthander Evan Reed came in and his balk moved Carp up.
Xander Bogaerts was hit on the left wrist by a 96 mile-per-hour fastball and the Red Sox again had two runners on. Jackie Bradley struck out. He was 0 for 3 and is down to .200.
Again, there was no bunt.
“They had faith in me and I have faith in myself,” said Bradley, who was 11 for 34 with runners in scoring position . . . It’s very frustrating. I’m not getting the result I want. I’m sure it’s not the results they want.”
The Red Sox sent A.J. Pierzynski out to pinch hit for Middlebrooks, whose finger was swelling.
The Tigers went to lefty Ian Krol and Pierzynski grounded into a double play to end the inning.
The Sox had righthanded hitting Jonny Gomes available but with Shane Victorino unavailable because of a sore left knee, Farrell did want to use the last player available on his bench.
It was the third double play for the Red Sox, who started the game with 38, tied for second in the American League.
Scherzer allowed three hits over his six innings with four walks and seven strikeouts. His ERA fell to 1.83. Like Lester, he can become a free agent following the season.