By Art Martone
BOSTON -- Talk about their lack of offense if you want. Ridicule the notion of run prevention if you must.
But the biggest problem facing the Red Sox this summer -- its recent shutout stretch notwithstanding - may be the bullpen.
Box score Play by play
In the just-completed series against the dreadful Orioles, the Sox dodged bullets with their relief corps on Friday (when the 'pen squandered a 3-0 lead before the offense pulled it out with a run in the bottom of the eighth for a 4-3 victory) and Saturday (when it turned a comfortable 7-3 eight-inning lead into a 7-6 nailbiter) nights.
No such luck on Sunday.
Handed a 4-1 lead with two outs in the seventh, the 'pen gave up seven hits and five walks, leading to five runs (and one inherited run that was charged to Tim Wakefield), in 3 13 innings as the Sox failed to complete the series sweep, falling to the Orioles, 7-6, in 10 innings.
Scott Atchison left Scott Schoeneweis a no-out, bases-loaded mess after coming on to start the 10th and surrendering, in order, a single to Miguel Tejada, a double to Luke Scott and walk to Ty Wiggington. Rhyne Hughes delivered one run with a single to right, leaving the bases loaded. Matt Wieters delivered two more with a single to left through the drawn-in infield, making it 7-4.
The Sox made a run in the bottom of the 10th, closing to 7-6 on a leadoff double by Kevin Youkilis, a one-out RBI double by J.D. Drew, a single by Adrian Beltre and an RBI single by Billy Hall. But ex-Sox reliever Cla Meredith came on and slammed the door, retiring Darnell McDonald on a foul pop to Wieters and Marco Scutaro on a liner to Wigginton at second base to nail down the victory.
Wakefield is heading to the bullpen this week, according to sources, but he made his case to stay in the rotation with 6 23 solid innings, allowing only two runs. He left the game with a 4-1 lead and was denied the victory when Hideki Okajima didn't nail down the final out of the seventh until he'd allowed the tying runs to score.
The Orioles took the lead in the second when Hughes -- who idolized Ted Williams as a youngster, making his 2-for-5 major-league debut Saturday night that much more special for him since it happened at Fenway Park -- doubled with one out and rode home on a single by Craig Tatum. That was basically the extent of the Oriole offense off Wakefield, but it was enough as David Hernandez protected the lead admirably through the first five innings.
And then, in the sixth, the roof caved in on him.
Dustin Pedroia opened the inning with a walk and Victor Martinez singled to right. Youkilis tied the game with a single to left, scoring Pedroia and sending Martinez to third.
With David Ortiz due, Orioles manager Dave Trembley called on left-hander Mark Hendrickson. Terry Francona let Ortiz hit and was rewarded with a ringing single to center that scored Martinez, making it 2-1, and sent Youkilis to third. Drew followed with a sacrifice fly that scored Youkilis and made it 3-1.
Beltre then singled to center, giving the Sox runners at first and second with one out, and Francona decided to raid his bench in an attempt to put the game away.
His first move failed. Hall, pinch-hitting for Jeremy Hermida, struck out.
But his second move was solid gold. Mike Lowell, pinch-hitting for Jonathan Van Every, doubled into the left-field corner, making it 4-1.
That lead only held, however, for as long as it took Okajima -- who came on in relief of Wakefield with a runner at third and two out in the seventh -- to surrender a double to Nick Markakis and a home run to Miguel Tejada, tying the game at 4-4 and costing Wakefield (and, eventually, the Sox) the victory.
Art Martone can be reached at email@example.com.