Pitching duel ends in play at the plate

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Pitching duel ends in play at the plate

SEATTLE -- The baseball and the baserunner were on a collision course, hurdling toward home plate, from opposite directions. Jarrod Saltalamacchia had to keep an eye on both.
In a scoreless tie in the bottom of the ninth, only everything was on the line.
"The ol' bang-bang play,'' Bobby Valentine called it.
While blocking the plate from baserunner Casper Wells, Saltalamacchia thought he had the ball in his glove as he went to apply the tag.
More than a half-hour after the play had taken place, the Red Sox' catcher wasn't exactly sure what had transpired.
Did he tag Wells, only to have the ball jar loose on contact?
Did he never fully have control of the ball?
In reality, it didn't matter. Wells was safe, scoring the only run in a brilliant pitching duel, and the Red Sox lost to the Mariners, 1-0.
Wells was on second after a leadoff double, and the Sox elected to watch Justin Smoak with first base open.
Seattle pinch-hit Jaso for Miguel Olivo, and Jaso laced a hard single to right, which right field Cody Ross charged.
"We practice that play quite a bit,'' recounted Ross. "It's a do-or-die play. I know he's going to go (for the plate) right there. He can run pretty good. I charged it and came up clean. You're trying to keep the ball down; you don't want to air-mail it and not give your catcher a chance.''
But somewhere between Saltalamacchia fielding the throw and the application of the tag, the ball got away."It's just the way this game is,'' said Ross. "It's crazy.''
"The ball was hit off the end of the bat to right,'' said Saltalamacchia. "I knew Cody was going to make a great throw, and he did. It was right on the money. I've just got to do a better job of holding onto it in a big situation like that.
"It was a good throw, low, on-line, so I was trying to stay low with it and then as the ball was coming closer, I was trying to block the plate to make sure he didn't get to it. And I think as I was doing it, I was swiping in, trying to block the plate so he didn't get near it and I think it just rattled around in my glove.
"I think he tagged him in the helmet. But either way, he went way around home plate. I had a chance to back and tag him if I had held onto the ball.''
But he didn't. End of game.

Merloni: ‘Missed opportunities left and right’ for Red Sox

Merloni: ‘Missed opportunities left and right’ for Red Sox

Lou Merloni talks about the Red Sox losing 6 out of the last 7 games and if David Price should have stayed in the game for the 9th inning.

McAdam: Red Sox at a loss after excruciating defeat

McAdam: Red Sox at a loss after excruciating defeat

There are still two full months of games left on the schedule and who knows what might happen in that time, or what else might befall the Red Sox.

But for now, it's no stretch to suggest that Thursday's excruciating 2-1 setback in Anaheim constitutes the worst loss of the season to date. The point hardly seems debatable.

Consider:

THE TIMING: This was the start of the longest, and in many ways, most challenging road trip of the season, with 11 games in 11 days. It comes immediately after a homestand that was highly disappointing, featuring a mere split with the last-place Minnesota Twins and a sweep at the hands of the otherwise mediocre Detroit Tigers.

There's been a great deal of attention focused on how many road games the Sox have to play through the rest of the season. Winning the opener -- and snapping a three-game losing streak in the process - would have felt like a strong statement that the club was ready and able to meet the challenges of the schedule.

THE STARTING PITCHER: The loss wiped out a standout performance by David Price, who may well hold the key to whether the Red Sox grab a playoff spot this fall.

Price has been woefully inconsistent in his first season with the Red Sox, alternating between brief stretches of dominance and periods of underwhelming outings.

For a change Thursday night, Price seemed on the verge of winning one of those "statement'' games, when he would make one measly run in the third inning stand up. There have been too many times, given his standing as the team's No. 1 starter, in which Price has pitched just well enough to lose -- like the pitcher's duels in which he came up short against the likes of Madison Bumgarner and Chris Tillman.

But on Thursday, Price didn't buckle. And never mind that he was matched against an aging and depleted Jered Weaver. Price had next-to-nothing with which to work, but he protected the 1-0 lead with a determination he has seldon shown in Boston.

And for his effort to go wasted sets an inauspicious marker for this demanding trip. There was something symbolic about having Price set the tone at the start with a low-scoring, must-have game.

He did his part. Unfortunately for Price, that wasn't enough.

THE WAY IN WHICH IT HAPPENED: Walk-off losses are never pleasant, whether they come on a homer, or a base hit up the middle.

But considering that the Red Sox had the ability to turn Daniel Nava's tapper to first into a game-ending double play, and instead, saw it result in a two-run throwing error on the part of Hanley Ramirez, makes it all the more crushing.

Brad Ziegler, who gave up a go-ahead game-winning homer in the final game of the homestand Wednesday, essentially did his job in the ninth. He got Mike Trout to hit a chopper, which resulted in an infield single. And he kept the ball on the ground and in the infield, with the Sox bringing the infield in with the bases loaded and one out.

Better execution, and the Red Sox walk away with a thrilling 1-0 victory to begin their West Coast trek. Instead, they walk off the field, heads down, with the wrong precedent being set.