Red Sox unable to fend off Mariners late
Dice-K solid, but Okajima struggles to hold lead in eighth
SEATTLE -- It all fell apart for the Red Sox on a bunt. Casey Kotchman was just trying to move his teammates to second and third. Hideki Okajima hopped off the mound, looked toward third, where he had a play, and hesitated. Then he threw to first, too late, and everyone was safe.
With the bases loaded and nobody out in the bottom of the eighth, Michael Saunders delivered a two-run single to right, overturning Boston's one-run lead and sending the Mariners on their way to a 4-2 victory on Sunday.
The Red Sox were just six outs away from taking three of four at Safeco Field. Instead, they were left with a split against a Seattle team that is 39-60 on the season. Meanwhile, the Sox fell five games behind the Rays in the Wild Card standings and eight back of the Yankees in the American League East.
After taking the first two in Seattle, the Sox were in position to win the next two, as well, but squandered both opportunities in the late innings.
"We didn't do a lot of things right to win this ballgame," Red Sox third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "We didn't play well the whole series."
Again, the offense left Boston with precious margin for error, scoring two in the fourth, but none for the rest of the game. This meant that the pitching and defense needed to be clean to secure a win, but Okajima had mishaps in both of those departments.
Nobody was more stunned then Beltre -- who was standing on the bag waiting for the throw -- that Okajima didn't try to cut down the lead runner.
"I saw that he had enough time to make a play at third," Beltre said. "Yeah, I was yelling for it. I don't know why he didn't throw. Maybe he didn't have a good grip or he thought he didn't have a chance. It's something he would only know. Did you talk to him?"
The answer to that is no, because Okajima declined multiple requests from Boston's media relations staff to speak to the media. That left Okajima's teammates and his manager to explain the surprising misplay.
"He looked to third and looked like he had time, and Beltre got back and it started out looking good, but he didn't take the throw to third," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "And again, we always give them the option, if you're not sure, get an out. And then from there, it just, I don't know if he didn't have a handle. It didn't look like there was a lot of urgency. They're trying to give you an out, and you don't take it. A lot of times, good things don't happen after that."
After the Saunders single into right put the Mariners on top, Okajima had another mishap on a bunt. This time, it was Milton Bradley who dropped one down, and Okajima screened first baseman Kevin Youkilis, preventing what might have been an out at the plate. Instead, the Mariners took a 4-2 lead.
"It looked like they were both converging, and it looked like he cut in front of Youk," said Francona. "Kotch didn't break right away. I think we had a pretty good play at the plate. When he cut in front of Youk, Youk lost it. He screened him."
While the bullpen couldn't hold the 2-1 lead that Daisuke Matsuzaka left the mound with after six, the offense -- playing without Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Victor Martinez -- scored four runs or fewer for the 10th time in their last 11 games. Martinez is expected to return to the lineup for Monday night's game at Anaheim.
"We need to start playing better, not only offensively but all sides of the game," Beltre said. "No doubt offensively we've been down, but we know we can do better."
Dice-K reeled off 110 pitches over six innings, walking five. But as he has a habit of doing, he minimized the damage, giving up just four hits and one run while striking out four.
"I was just desperate in trying to do what I could to give our team a chance to win," Matsuzaka said through interpreter Masa Hoshino.
Was Matsuzaka frustrated that he couldn't be more economical, which would have allowed Francona to pitch ace setup man Daniel Bard in the eighth instead of the seventh?
"I was certainly ready to go out for another inning, but there isn't a lot you can do when you're told to come out of the game," Matsuzaka said. "I, for one, was ready to go back out."
The Mariners struck for their only run against Matsuzaka in the third, getting a double from Chone Figgins and an RBI single by Jose Lopez to take a 1-0 lead.
But the Red Sox bounced right back in the top of the fourth. J.D. Drew, who was moved up to the second spot in the order to utilize his on-base skills, led off with a single to right. David Ortiz drew a walk, and Youkilis drilled an RBI double to left to tie the game. Beltre hit an RBI single to score Ortiz and give Boston a 2-1 lead.
The offense was shut down from there, producing no hits over the final four innings.
What can be done about the lack of firepower?
"If I would know, I would try to fix it," said Beltre. "I don't know."
With the deficit mounting in both postseason races, the Red Sox need to find answers soon.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.