By Art Martone
BOSTON -- "They said the world was going to end today?" a rueful Terry Francona said Saturday night. "It felt like it in the eighth inning."
Hard to argue from a Red Sox point of view.
In one of the ugliest innings of this (or any) season, the Sox gave up five hits and two walks, committed two Little League errors, and allowed the Cubs to score eight runs in the eighth inning, turning a 3-1 Boston lead into a 9-3 Cubs victory at Fenway Park.
Francona said the team had decided before the weekend to rest Daniel Bard on Friday and Saturday -- "We've been leaning on him too much recently" -- and thus the eighth inning, which is normally Bard Time, was entrusted to Matt Albers. Albers failed to retire any of the six batters he faced (and in fact allowed all of them to score) and newly acquired Franklin Morales wasn't a whole lot better (two hits, two runs).
"The rest will do Bard a world of good," said Francona. "It didn't do us a world of good tonight."
The Sox had built their lead on the strength of a two-run homer by David Ortiz in the fourth inning and an RBI single by Jacoby Ellsbury in the sixth. But they squandered chance after chance to increase the lead -- they stranded 11 runners through the first seven innings and were their usual putrid selves (1-for-9) with runners in scoring position -- and left themselves vulnerable for the type of comeback the Cubs mounted in the eighth.
And that comeback was aided by Albers, who allowed back-to-back singles, back-to-back walks, and a two-run double to the first five batters he faced; shortstop Jed Lowrie, who dropped a popup hit by the sixth and final batter Albers faced and allowed another run to score; and third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who flubbed a throw on a rundown from catcher Jason Varitek that resulted in two more Chicago runs, turning a 5-3 game into a 7-3 game.
As a result, the Sox missed a chance to move into first place in the A.L. East, as they couldn't capitalize on Tampa Bay's loss to Florida.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro was 0-for-3 heading into the eighth inning, but he played a key role with two hits in Chicago's eight-run rally. His first -- a single after Darwin Barney had led off with a single -- set the table, putting runners at first and second with no outs for the 4-5-6 hitters. And his second, a double over the head of left fielder Carl Crawford, drove in Kosuke Fukudome with Chicago's final run.
Castro now has 61 hits, third in the major leagues, and lifted his average to .326.
Hard to "honor" someone from a team that lost 9-3, but Alfredo Aceves qualifies. Thrust into the rotation by the injuries to John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka, he worked five strong innings in his first start of the season, allowing only three hits and one run. He did his job, departing after 86 pitches and handing the bullpen a 3-1 lead.
"He gave us a little bit more than we could have asked for," said Terry Francona. "He gave us a good chance to win the game."
Who else? Poor Matt Albers saw his ERA jump from 1.56 to 4.15 with a 0-inning, 3-hit, 6-run, 2-walk disaster.
"Obviously I knew with Bard down tonight I was probably going to have the eighth inning and it worked out great, we had the lead to that point," said Albers. "I just didnt do my job."
With Bard unavailable, the Sox, who had already used Dan Wheeler and Rich Hill earlier in the game, were down to two pitchers -- Franklin Morales and Jonathan Papelbon -- behind Albers. So when the inning (very quickly) started to unravel, Terry Francona felt he had little choice but to stick with Albers.
"We only had Pap and Morales," Francona said. "If we were fortunate enough to tie the game in the eighth and bring in Papelbon for the ninth, if they'd used Morales in the eighth there's nobody else behind Papelbon. That's why Albers had to get them out."
Except he didn't.
It was still close at 5-3 when Darwin Barney came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth. He hit a fly ball to J.D. Drew in medium-deep right field, and the runner on third, Alfonso Soriano, went about a third of way down the line and decided not to test Drew's arm. However, the runner on second, Jeff Baker, thought Soriano was going, so he tagged and headed to third.
Catcher Jason Varitek took Drew's throw and saw both Soriano and Baker near third base. He fired the ball to third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who only had to tag Soriano and get the Sox out of the inning trailing by only two runs.
But Youkilis botched the throw. It went off his glove and into left field, allowing both Soriano AND Baker to score. A 5-3 game had turned into a 7-3 game, and the Sox were done.
BY THE NUMBERS: 47
The number of pitches thrown by Matt Albers and Franklin Morales during the Cubs' eight-run rally in the eighth.
QUOTE OF NOTE
"The eighth inning really unraveled. We dropped balls, we threw them away . . . it just got a little bit ugly." -- Terry Francona, slightly understating Chicago's eight-run eighth.
Art Martone can be reached at email@example.com.