By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com Follow @maureenamullen
BOSTON There havent been many times this season Red Sox manager Terry Francona has had to get a reliever warming up in the bullpen early in a Josh Beckett start. But, thats what he had to do Thursday afternoon in the fourth inning of the finale of the four-game series with the Royals at Fenway Park, calling upon left-hander Randy Williams.
Beckett cruised through the Royals lineup, facing the minimum number of batters through the first three innings. He recorded at least one strikeout in each of those frames, with two in the third, and appeared comfortably on his way to his fourth win in his last five outings.
But Beckett, with a two-run lead, faced as many batters nine -- in the fourth as he had up to that point in the game. The Royals batted around in the fourth, the first team to do so against Beckett since the Yankees in the sixth inning on May 2, 2010.
He opened the inning with consecutive walks to Alex Gordon and Mitch Maier before giving up a three-run homer to Billy Butler to straightaway center field. After retiring Eric Hosmer, Jeff Francoeur reached on a two-base error by Drew Sutton in left field (originally ruled a double, changed after the game). Then Mike Moustakas double to right scored Francouer for the fourth run. Beckett gave up a single to Matt Treanor before retiring Chris Getz and Alcides Escobar to get out of the inning.
With four runs allowed in the inning, Beckett gave up as many as he had in his previous 23 innings pitched, going back to July 8 against the Orioles.
Beckett took the loss, his first at Fenway this season, as the Sox fell, 4-3, to the Royals, splitting the series against the American League Centrals last-place team. He went seven innings, giving up four runs (three earned) on five hits and three walks with eight strikeouts. Only that post-game scoring change turning what was Francouers fourth-inning double into a two-base error by Sutton salvaged a quality start for Beckett, his 15th in 20 outings.
I thought he was in great control, Francona said. He was efficient, didn't have a high-pitch inning at all. But that one inning, that was kind of out of character. I think it was a 38-pitch inning. Walked two guys in a row, which I dont know, thats probably happened, but I dont remember it. And then he gets ahead of Butler and actually the pitch was down. It just kind of wandered over too much of the plate. But it was not a bad pitch. Just a good hitter. That was enough. They held on.
"It was uncharacteristic that he lost two guys. Sometimes its a little bit of everything. Hes ahead of butler. The ball's down. A good hitter came up at the wrong time. Then we get a fly ball to Sutt Drew Sutton. Tough play but we dont get the out. It kind of extends, makes him work harder. Sometimes it happens. But it was a long inning, long enough to the point where we thought he could keep getting guys out. But we start worrying about him. So, you got to get somebody up."
It was the most runs Beckett has allowed at home this season and the most at home since giving up four to Toronto on Sept. 18, 2010. It was Becketts first loss in a month, since falling in Philadelphia on June 28, and his first loss in nine career starts against the Royals, snapping a five-game winning streak against them.
Thats a pretty good lineup, said catcher Jason Varitek. They swing the bats pretty well.
He wasnt missing by much. Its not like he all of a sudden got wild. Just, we couldnt put either one of Gordon or Maier in the fourth away. But we were just missing, too.
Beckett threw 109 pitches, 72 for strikes. After the fourth inning, he faced just two batters above the minimum, on a Mike Moustakas sixth-inning walk, and a single by Chris Getz leading off the seventh.
The difference between the fourth inning and the others?
They werent hitting balls at guys, Beckett said. With the exception of Butlers ball. He hit that one at that guy sitting up in the stands. Got a couple of hits on balls outer-half instead of the corners. Bad pitches.
The Sox had given Beckett a lead in the third inning, when Jacoby Ellsburys two-run single to right scored Jason Varitek and Yamaico Navarro.
Pretty darn frustrating when your team scores two runs and then you walk the first two guys, Beckett said. Yeah, thats pretty frustrating.
Command, Beckett said. Fastball command, breaking ball command, changeup command. I was just kind of all over the place.
I had anormal warm-up. And everything like that. As the game went on it got worse and worse.
Sometimes you make good pitches and they get hit. Sometimes you make bad pitches and they hit them at guys. And thats kind of the story of today, with the exception of one inning.
For the Royals, thats all they needed.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen.