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Closing Time: Lester blinks in pitchers’ duel as Red Sox get swept by Rangers

05.05.13 at 6:58 pm ET
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The Red Sox suffered their first series sweep of the season Sunday, enduring a 4-3 walkoff loss to the Rangers when former Sox Adrian Beltre delivered a two-out single in the bottom of the ninth to score Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus.

The Sox possessed a 3-1 lead in the sixth, with Jon Lester stifling the Rangers on a day when Yu Darvish allowed three runs early but nothing after while featuring electric stuff (en route to 14 strikeouts). But Lester not only have up a game-tying two-run homer in the sixth, but also hit a wall with his pitch efficiency, resulting in yet another instance of the Sox needing to lean on their bullpen for more than two innings.

That, in turn, meant that it was Clayton Mortensen on the mound with the game in the balance in the ninth. Certainly, Mortensen has proven a solid pitcher this year, but he’s not a pitcher whom the Sox would have pitching the ninth inning of a tie game by design.

But with seemingly every Sox starter but Clay Buchholz unable to work more than six innings, the tax on the Sox bullpen has been considerable, resulting in some late-inning challenges of late. The consequence on Sunday was a loss.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

David Ortiz continued his astonishing start to the season, blasting a mammoth two-run homer to right field (complete with a vintage Ortiz post-impact bat toss) against Rangers ace Yu Darvish in the first inning to give the Sox an immediate 2-0 advantage.

Ortiz has now hit in all 13 games he’s played in since coming off the DL, the longest hitting streak by a Red Sox to start the season since Kevin Millar hit in 14 straight games to open the 2003 season. He has four homers, 12 extra-base hits and a whopping 17 RBI in his 13 contests. Dating to last year, he now has hits in a career-high 25 straight games.

In short, Ortiz — since returning to the field — is delivering as much offensive impact now as he has at any point in his career. He remains a difference-making lineup presence even (and especially) against an elite pitcher such as Darvish.

David Ross continued to display his considerable power, launching a solo homer to deep left, just inside the foul pole, against Darvish in the second inning. He later walked and recorded his second career stolen base. In 42 plate appearances, he’s now hitting .243/.333/.595 with four homers, providing precisely the sort of offensive jolt for which the Sox hoped when they signed him as a free agent this offseason.

Dustin Pedroia‘s first-inning infield single snapped an 0-for-14 spell, and put him on base in front of Ortiz’s homer. Still, that represented his only contact of the day as he punched out twice (and walked), continuing a year in which he’s striking out with greater frequency than ever. Pedroia has whiffed in 14.4 percent of his plate appearances this year, far above his career average of 8.8 percent and his previous single-season high of 11.6 percent (in 2011).

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

Not that there’s any particular shame in striking out against Yu Darvish, who entered the game leading the majors in both strikeouts (58) and strikeouts per nine innings (13.5 per nine innings), but the Sox punched out 14 times in the Texas ace’s seven innings of work — their most strikeouts against an opposing pitcher since they whiffed 15 times against Mike Mussina (then of the Orioles) in 2000.

— For most of Sunday, Jon Lester looked as if he was ready to outdo Darvish, if not in dominance then at least in effectiveness. He limited the Rangers to one run on two hits while sailing through the first four innings in 55 pitches, appearing likely to give the Sox bullpen a much-needed respite. However, he required a total of 60 pitches in the fifth and sixth, including a fateful sixth frame in which he permitted a game-tying two-run homer.

Sunday marked the first time this year that Lester permitted multiple homers in a game, though it’s worth noting that he’s been more vulnerable to the longball of late. After not giving up a homer in his first four starts, he’s permitted homers in each of his last three outings. yielding four homers in 17 2/3 frames.

Still, Lester showed his best stuff in a few outings. Of his 115 pitches, he got 13 swings and misses and matched a season-high with seven strikeouts.

— Notable among the whiff parade: Daniel Nava went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. Stephen Drew was 0-for-3 with three strikeouts — his third three-strikeout game of the season.

— Though he worked a scoreless seventh inning, Koji Uehara continued to pitch like someone whose effectiveness has been diminished by a considerable early-season workload. He gave up a hit (granted, an infield single) for the eighth straight outing while also issuing a walk. Uehara has now pitched in 15 of the Sox’ 31 games.

Mike Napoli, in his return to Texas, made little impact in the three-game series against his former club. He went 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts and a walk on Sunday, concluding a three-game stretch in which he went 1-for-10 with a single, a HBP, a walk and four strikeouts. Most notably, with runners on first and second and two outs in the top of the eighth in a 3-3 game on Sunday, he grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the threat.

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