Dice-K less than OK as Red Sox fall

Dice-K less than OK as Sox fall

BOSTON -- It's almost mind boggling how a pitcher can be in the Top 10 in both wins and walks. In the American League, only Red Sox right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka has managed to walk -- for lack of a better word -- that high-wire act this season.

Somehow, some way, the walks were not coming back to haunt Dice-K. For each free pass, he'd have an answer, be it a strikeout or a soft out.

But you can only roll the dice like that so often. In Monday night's 7-5 loss to the Angels, one ill-timed leadoff walk to Chone Figgins in the sixth inning proved highly detrimental.

Following the walk, there was a two-run homer by Casey Kotchman. And three batters later, there was a prodigious three-run homer by Torii Hunter. The Red Sox gave up six runs in the game-breaking inning, five of which were charged to Matsuzaka.

"I do think it was a waste to walk him there," said Matsuzaka, now 11-2 with a 3.04 ERA. "I wasn't too concerned about the stolen base because, even with him in scoring position, I felt confident that I'd be able to hold him there. So after I walked him, I wanted to start fresh, but I just think I had too straightforward an approach there."

What Kotchman hit was a cutter that never did cut.

"That pitch was a cutter to the outside, but I didn't cut it very well, so it was essentially a fastball," said Matsuzaka, who was charged for seven hits and six runs over five-plus innings.

After losing two out of three to the Yankees, the Red Sox were hoping to rediscover their groove against the team with the best record in baseball. But to avoid having consecutive series losses at home for the first time all season, Boston will need to rally back to win the next two against Los Angeles.

The Angels, by the way, are starting to develop a swagger against the Red Sox. Although Boston won the first meeting between the teams this season, Los Angeles has reeled off victories in the last six.

"They might be the class of the American League right now," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I think we feel like every time we play, we're going to win. But they have tremendous starting pitching, a very good bullpen, a lot of speed, they catch the ball very well. I could name a lot of things. Hopefully, [Tuesday] I won't be naming those things and we'll end up winning, but there's a reason they have as many wins as they do."

Fortunately for the Red Sox, they were able to remain just one game behind the Tampa Bay Rays, who lost to the Blue Jays. The Yankees -- who are two games behind Boston -- were defeated by the Orioles.

"It would've been nice to pick up one," said Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. "I wasn't aware of the scoreboard during the game. But if that's the case, it would've been nice to pick one up tonight."

The Red Sox were too busy trying to stage rallies to scoreboard watch.

Even down, 7-2, they made it interesting. Jed Lowrie doubled home a run in the sixth to make it a four-run game. Ellsbury's RBI single to left-center in the eighth sliced it to 7-4.

But the Angels had the luxury of calling on Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth. The ace closer worked around a solo homer by Manny Ramirez to nail down save No. 44.

Boston had taken a 2-1 lead in the fourth on Ramirez's two-run single against winning pitcher Jered Weaver.

"For us, we just didn't capitalize times when we had runners in scoring position and didn't drive the runs in," said Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis. "That one big inning hurt us."

If there is one reason why Matsuzaka is on pace to have a far better record and ERA this year than in his rookie season of a year ago, it's been his ability to avoid the big inning.

But that trend did not hold true to form Monday night, as the big inning found Matsuzaka in a big way.

"I think he's more experienced, and has a better understanding," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "There isn't as much newness to everything that he does. I think his stuff was much better than his end result was today. But that was one of the first times that that's happened."

And even in defeat, Matsuzaka vowed to gain something from it.

"I think when I'm facing a good team like the Angels, I need to mix up my pitches a little bit more and add some more variation," Matsuzaka said. "While I'm disappointed in the loss, I do feel it was a rare learning opportunity out there."

As for the Sox, they are 4-6 since the All-Star break.

"That's the way it goes sometimes," said Ellsbury. "I'm sure we'll catch fire here shortly, sooner rather than later."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.