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Closing Time: Aaron Cook’s struggles continue as Red Sox fall to Tigers

08.01.12 at 10:46 pm ET
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Aaron Cook was hammered for six runs in 4 2/3 innings on Wednesday (AP)

Many consider there to be three true outcomes in baseball: the walk, the strikeout and the homer. All reflect almost entirely on exactly what happened in the matchup of batter vs. pitcher. Luck and defense play very little part en route to any of them.

Aaron Cook is, in some ways, assembling a year in which he has more falsehood in his outcomes than any pitcher since at least 1901. His sinker represents a unique form of sorcery, one that results in neither walks nor strikeouts. It has been the ultimate pitch-to-contact offering in 2012, resulting in the right-hander’s startling totals of four walks and four strikeouts in his 44 2/3 innings this year, rates of 0.81 walks and strikeouts per nine innings. No other pitcher since at least 1901 has ever walked and struck out fewer than 0.9 batters per nine innings. Contact is his game, and he won’t apologize for it, particularly given that batter after batter pounds his sinker into the ground.

But on the most desirable count, Cook is producing true outcomes. On Wednesday, he hung a pair of curveballs (on back-to-back pitches, no less) to Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the top of the fifth inning. Both pitches were slaughtered, resulting in back-to-back homers that created a three-run blitz to punctuate a five-run rally.

Cook has now given up two homers in each of his last three outings. In that span, he has allowed 17 runs (15 earned) in 15 innings, a 9.00 ERA. Even on nights when his sinker is tremendous (as it was through the first four innings on Wednesday), his margin for error is so slim that his success depends on his ability to navigate a tightrope.

On Wednesday, he stumbled, and the Red Sox endured a 7-5 loss to the Tigers that snapped a four-game winning streak. For a time, he represented a much-needed Band-Aid for the Sox rotation, but going forward, his hold on a spot in the rotation seems increasingly tenuous. While the questions about Josh Beckett‘s health may offer a reprieve, the Sox’ decision about whether to shift Franklin Morales into the rotation permanently will become fairly straightforward if Cook cannot eliminate the one true outcome that he has encountered with any frequency.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

– For the second straight start, Cook allowed six or more runs, a virtually impossible formula for success. In games where starters allow at least six runs this year, teams entered Wednesday with a 54-378 (.125) winning percentage.

– The fact that Cook remained in the game to pitch to Fielder was a questionable decision on the part of manager Bobby Valentine. Cook seemed like he had run out of gas by the time Cabrera blasted his two-run homer into orbit, and left-handed reliever Craig Breslow was already up in the bullpen.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and a rally-impairing, bases-loaded 4-6-3 double play with no outs in the bottom of the sixth inning. Though the Sox amassed three runs in that inning, they might have been in position to do even more damage but for Saltalamacchia’s twin-killing. In his last 22 plate appearances with runners in scoring position dating to the start of July, he is 2-for-21 (.095) with one walk, 11 strikeouts and the double play. Overall since the beginning of July, he’s hitting .171 with a .247 OBP, .400 slugging mark and .647 OPS.

Dustin Pedroia, who did not strike out in his first 11 games off the DL, struck out once on Tuesday and then followed that with a pair of strikeouts on Wednesday while going 1-for-4.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Jacoby Ellsbury made a dazzling play he made in the top of the fourth, on a ball that Delmon Young crushed into the Triangle. Ellsbury had an initial misread on the ball but quickly corrected his angle and turned on the burners to make a sprinting, stumbling catch on the warning track, at the end of which he crashed into the side of the Red Sox bullpen. At the conclusion of the play, he rolled to insulate his head from the wall, with his right shoulder — the same one that endured a subluxation in April, thus sending him to the DL for three months — taking the brunt of the collision. It was a play on which he not only flashed his game-changing defensive skills but also an ability to play without fear of re-injury, a promising sign if the Sox are to make a sustained run at the postseason.

Carl Crawford, after going hitless in his first three plate appearances and twice being hit with boos, reversed Fenway sentiment about him by blasting a solo homer into the Red Sox bullpen in the bottom of the seventh inning. He also had a feisty eight-pitch at-bat against Tigers closer Jose Valverde in the bottom of the ninth, but it ended when Crawford whiffed on a 94 mph fastball.

Adrian Gonzalez, who went an astonishing 29 straight games without a walk through Monday, has now taken free passes in back-to-back contests after walking on Wednesday. He also went 2-for-3, improving to.378/.403/.524/.927 since June 20.

Andrew Miller came on with a runner on third and two outs to face Prince Fielder, and promptly punched him out on three straight swing-and-miss sliders. Though he gave up a solo homer (on a good pitch, a 98 mph fastball on the outer edge) to Delmon Young in the eighth, the left-hander also punched out another batter. Miller is now averaging 10.8 strikeouts and 2.4 walks per nine innings, a staggering accomplishment for a pitcher who entered this season with 7.2 strikeouts and 5.4 walks per nine.

Craig Breslow was sharp in his first Red Sox game since 2006, tossing 1 1/3 scoreless innings while allowing one hit and striking out two.

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