Balk, short flyout halts Red Sox's winning streak

Balk, short flyout halts Red Sox's winning streak

Balk, short flyout halts Red Sox's winning streak
ST. PETERSBURG -- Of all the losses the Red Sox wind up suffering this season, it's doubtful any will combine quirkiness and frustration quite like Wednesday night's 2-1 defeat to the Rays at Tropicana Field.

Just consider the way the Rays scored their only two runs.

The first was on a balk by Clay Buchholz, in which the right-hander lost his footing.

"The balk, in my head, I was going to go third to first, I came up and my back cleat sort of got caught, and I tried to spin around and throw to first," said Buchholz of the play that made it 1-0 Rays in the second inning.

So the man who has the first name Clay was actually done in by clay?

"That clay out there, it sort of sticks, and if you don't pick your foot completely out of the clay, your cleats are stuck down in there," said Buchholz.

It wasn't the only time in this game a Boston player had his spikes do something unexpected to cost his team a run.

In the bottom of the sixth, Andrew Miller came on in relief of Buchholz with runners at the corners and nobody out -- the game tied at 1.

Luke Scott hit just the kind of shallow fly ball the Red Sox needed, but as right fielder Cody Ross looked up, he temporarily lost the baseball amid the white backdrop of the Tropicana Field roof.

Ross stumbled, causing him to catch the ball with his momentum carrying him backward instead of forward. So Matt Joyce tagged up, when he never would have if Ross had fielded it without incident.

"Well, as I saw the play developing, the ball was up in the air and obviously it was short," Joyce said. "I wasn't really planning on going until I saw Cody Ross kind of backpedal. The Trop can be tough sometimes for outfielders and infielders the same. It's hard to see the ball when you're not used to it.

"He started backpedaling, and as an outfielder, I know it's hard to get a lot on your throw and make a really good throw when you're on the heels of your feet. I took a shot and it worked out."

Ross could sense uneasiness as soon as the ball was hit.

"Yeah, you know, I was playing pretty deep and went in and gave [second baseman] Dustin [Pedroia] a look, and when I looked back up, I lost it a little bit and gathered it and then tried to break my stride down and kind of tripped over myself and had to reach back and grab it," Ross said. "Just a lot of stuff going on on that play. It was awful."

If the Red Sox had won the game, Ross could have laughed at himself following such an unusual play. Instead, he was miffed by the timing of it.

"I lost my footing. I almost rolled my ankle. I felt like, when I was breaking my steps down and just kind of pushed forward and had to reach back. It ended up costing us the game. I lost [it] in the white for a split second, but it's a play that has to be made. No excuses, that's for sure."

The balk in the second -- one of three by the Red Sox on the night -- was Buchholz's only blemish over the first five innings. He was absolutely cruising.

But Joyce started the sixth with a single that caromed off Buchholz's left foot. Manager Bobby Valentine came out to the mound to make sure he was OK. Buchholz assured his manager he was.

And Carlos Pena followed with a single to right that wound up setting up the odd sacrifice fly.

Valentine lifted Buchholz after just 87 pitches.

"I thought he had an arsenal left in him, but once it became first and third, we tried to pull a Houdini act," Valentine said. "He got the short fly ball and it looked like the bubble kind of messed Cody up a little bit. He wasn't going to tag on that play."

Buchholz didn't second-guess Valentine. At the same time, he is a competitor and wonders how the situation would have unfolded if he had stayed in.

"You always want to want to stay out there," Buchholz said. "If your runs get cashed in, you want to be the guy that cashes them in and give the reliever a fresh inning. It was just a situation that our team was in, and that's our manager's decision."

Over five-plus innings, Buchholz scattered six hits and two runs, walking one and striking out five.

After having a brutal start to the season, Buchholz has been solid in his last two starts.

"He pitched much better tonight," Valentine said. "[He] came up with a new found changeup. I thought it really helped his repertoire. He controlled the head of the bat much better and got swings and misses. His curveball was good."

Meanwhile, the Red Sox couldn't get much of anything going against Rays righty Jeremy Hellickson, who earned the win.

Hellickson allowed five hits and a run over six innings, walking two and striking out six.

"We just didn't string the at-bats together," Valentine said. "You know, Hellickson's changeup made that fastball look like it's 100 [mph]. We weren't on time."

Tampa Bay's bullpen took it from there, ending Boston's five-game winning streak.

For the Red Sox, it was the opener of a two-game series at Tropicana Field and a three-city, eight-game road trip.

Ian Browne is a reporter for Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.