ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Red Sox seem prepared to play their first interleague series of the season starting Friday night, when they take on the equally disappointing Phillies, a high-payroll team that also has suffered numerous injuries and setbacks.
They are teams who have mirrored each another, but the Red Sox, who have won six of seven after a 5-3 victory over Tampa Bay Thursday night, will first be facing Cole Hamels, which means Boston should hide rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks.
Just kidding, of course, but Hamels served a five-game suspension recently after admitting he drilled Bryce Harper of the Nationals because he is a rookie.
The Red Sox (18-20) left here with a split, but frustrated with the umpiring.
That frustration got Mike Aviles ejected Thursday night, while Dustin Pedroia was upset with some strike calls. Adrian Gonzalez, who had expressed his displeasure the night before, came back muttering after he struck out, but wouldn’t comment much afterward.
While the team seemed to jell behind an us vs. them (umpires) mentality, the fear in these situations is that a team will earn a reputation for being too vocal, and suffer the consequences of a smaller strike zone.
Which is why a couple of Red Sox officials were hoping that the public complaints be kept to a minimum so not to rile the men in blue.
Whether that happened after Gonzalez’s complaints Wednesday is up to interpretation.
Thursday night, Aviles was ejected by plate umpire Dan Bellino for arguing a called third strike in the seventh inning.
“It was just frustrating, I guess,’’ Aviles said. “I wasn’t questioning whether it was a ball or strike on the last one. He had called two pitches that were very similar balls, and at that point I shut off that pitch when it got called a strike. I thought he gave me the hook a little quick, prematurely. At that point, I lost my cool and I apologized for that.’’
Aviles said it was the first time he’d been ejected as a major leaguer.
Why the frustration?
“When you’re out there battling a team such as the Rays, who are notorious for good pitching, it’s tough when they’re getting extra pitching,’’ Aviles said. “It went both ways. I just felt it was frustrating for both sides. That’s just the way the game is played. Luckily, we pulled out the victory.’’
Gonzalez and Aviles may be right about the strike zone, but to be openly critical of the umpiring does them no favors.
Marlon Byrd, who homered Thursday night but also struck out three times, said, “It’s the human element of game, which I like. Umpires are going to have good days and bad days, we’re not going to agree on a strikeout looking. But you have to learn the strike zone. And if there’s a spot where they’re going to call, you have to swing the bat and you have to adjust.’’
Manager Bobby Valentine backed his players.
“You can’t fight the umpire and the other team, but we’re a highly competitive team, we like to be given a chance,’’ he said. “A lot of guys had complaints tonight, and I was with them. We have to fight through it, that’s for sure. We’re trying our hardest and they’re trying their hardest.’’
Amid the seriousness was some levity. Gonzalez, who the night before predicted he would hit a home run Thursday night, went 0 for 3, but hit a foul ball with home run distance in the third inning.
“I hit the one,’’ he said. “I never said it was going to be fair or foul. It went over the fence. It was a home run and we won the game.’’
Gonzalez also got hit by a Matt Moore pitch in the first inning. Some thought it might have been retaliation for Will Rhymes getting plunked by Franklin Morales the night before.
“I think he was trying to pitch inside,’’ Gonzalez said. “I don’t think he was trying to load the bases. If he did, thank you. Bobby said if that was there intent, then keep doing it.’’
When asked about Thursday night’s umpiring, Gonzalez said, “I’m not going to comment on that. You guys saw the game. I’m going to try to let it go.’’
Gonzalez’s near home run had the Sox, Gonzalez included, in a playful mood.
“I was out in front, just a hair,’’ he said. “A hanging changeup. Just needed to back it up a little more. When I first hit it, I thought it had a chance. I wish we had Pesky [the pole] there. It would have been nice in that situation.’’
Gonzalez, who played five seasons in the National League with the Padres, said he was looking forward to playing in Philadelphia this weekend.
“Yeah, it’s always good,’’ Gonzalez said. “The one thing I want to see is what we do with [David Ortiz] and me and playing time. Our outfielders are swinging the bat great, so it’s hard to take playing time away from them. Right field in Philly is small, so that shouldn’t be a problem.’’
Asked about the notorious Philadelphia fans, Gonzalez said, “I don’t pay attention. They can say whatever they want, I’m not listening. I never listen.’’
So, while the last two days were filled with frustration over umpiring and a 2-1 loss Wednesday, some levity returned to the clubhouse.
“Baseball is always a fun game,’’ Gonzalez said. “People can add all kinds of pressure to it. One thing on our minds and that’s to win a game. We’re thinking about wins. If we win, I’ll be happy.’’
Now they get to go to Philadelphia and see old pal Jonathan Papelbon, who is 11 for 11 this season in save situations.
“It’ll be fun,’’ Gonzalez said. “We’re playing winning baseball again. We just have to keep it up and go into Philly and win the series. If we can continue to get pitching like we have and our bullpen continues to pitch great, we’ll get it done. We’re having fun.’’
Those words haven’t been uttered in the Red Sox clubhouse for a long time.