Just when several preferred trends appeared on pace to bolster him to a gem against the hapless Kansas City Royals, Josh Beckett was abruptly bitten by another recurring trivial tidbit in the fourth inning.
Entering his Thursday afternoon start at Fenway Park, Beckett was 3-0 while the team was 4-0 in his previous July 2011 starts. Yet the Sox were also 0-3 in Beckett’s last start of the three previous calendar months, the last two of those going directly on his tab.
Immediately after Beckett breezed through the first three innings, he went back out to safeguard a newfangled 2-0 lead courtesy of Jacoby Ellsbury’s two-run single. A momentary glitch reversed everything in the top of the fourth as the Royals batted around from the top to bottom of their order, usurping a 4-2 edge.
From there, a stingy pitcher’s duel with Kansas City counterpart Luke Hochevar resumed and carried on until both bullpens took action to commence the eighth. As a consequence, the 4-2 deficit ultimately morphed into a 4-3 loss for the host Red Sox.
With the setback, Beckett was not only denied a seamless transcript for a mostly irreproachable month of July. He also endured his first loss in nine starts and seven decisions in his career against the Royals.
What’s more, the blunderstruck fourth inning and an offensive failure to fully recompense amounted to Beckett’s first loss in five decisions at home this season. The ace’s previous loss at the Yawkey Yard fell last Sept. 18 with an identical 4-3 upshot against the Blue Jays.
Beckett walked Alex Gordon on a payoff pitch to lead off the fateful fourth. Ditto his second challenger, Mitch Maier.
Billy Butler’s straightaway homer, only the second hit for the Royals up to that point, cleared the bases and pole-vaulted Kansas City ahead with still no outs. After Eric Hosmer popped up to shortstop Yamaico Navarro in the shallow outfield, Beckett surrendered back-to-back doubles to Jeff Francoeur and Mike Moustakas, thus augmenting the Royals lead to 4-2 with one away.
The bleeding stopped right there, but the angst persisted a little longer. Matt Treanor’s single put himself and Moustakas on the corners. Beckett then retrieved Getz’s bunt and threw him out, though Treanor advanced to second, where he was stranded along with Moustakas when Dustin Pedroia threw out Alcides Escobar from second base to mercifully end the sketchy stanza.
In seven overall innings, Beckett surrendered a respectable six hits along with the four runs and three walks, but also logged eight strikeouts, the most in a single game since his July 3 win in Houston. In addition, he retrieved two Kansas City bunts to execute a much-needed grounder.
But on the whole, the opposing Hochevar was equally effective and the Sox spilled every opportunity to at least drop Beckett off the hook.
Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz, two of three Boston batters to go hitless on the day, both came up empty while Ellsbury and Adrian Gonzalez stood at the corners, threatening to augment the initial 2-0 lead in the third.
Under different circumstances, Beckett’s fourth inning Thursday might have gone down more like his fifth inning July 8 versus Baltimore. That evening, the Sox had already sculpted an 8-0 gap in the first, ultimately rendering a three-run, three-hit inning negligible for the Orioles and the victorious Beckett.
Thursday was only the second time Beckett allowed multiple runs in a single frame this month. And out of 35 total innings in five starts this July, 31 were scoreless.
But in wake of his 5-0 drawback in Philadelphia June 28 or the five-walk, 3-0 nipping at Detroit May 29, or the no-decision in an eventual 5-4 loss to the Orioles April 27, it was as if something had to happen to stain Beckett’s July jewel.
That omen was fulfilled when the Sox could only saw the 4-2 deficit in half courtesy of Pedroia’s leadoff home run over the Monster in the eighth. Ostensibly drained after a slew of slugfests in recent nights, Boston only mustered four baserunners in the last six innings Thursday.