Sox can't shake Fenway struggles in home finale

Sox can't shake Fenway struggles in home finale

Sox can't shake Fenway struggles in home finale
BOSTON -- Of the many things that plagued the Red Sox this season, perhaps the most surprising was the team's underwhelming play at Fenway Park, which was anything but friendly to the home team.

It was sadly fitting then, that Boston suffered a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night in the Fenway finale for 2012.

By finishing with a 34-47 record at home, the Red Sox produced their worst Fenway record since the 1965 team had the same mark.

In fact, this was the first time Boston finished under .500 at Fenway since 1997.

"Well, disappointing," said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. "We didn't walk off many and we didn't score enough runs here. We have a lot stored up for next year."

The 69-87 Red Sox head for the road to play their final six games of the season at Baltimore and New York. This, after an off-day on Thursday.

As for the Rays, they are still hanging on to some hope for a postseason berth. After taking two straight in Boston, Tampa Bay is three games back in the American League Wild Card standings.

The night started off in festive fashion, as the Red Sox unveiled their All-Fenway Team. Former stars like Carl Yastrzemski, Pedro Martinez, Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, Luis Tiant, Roger Clemens and Nomar Garciaparra took part in the pregame ceremony.

In this 100th anniversary celebration at Fenway, this was far from the first time that the Red Sox followed pregame pomp and circumstance with a loss.

"Obviously, no matter who you play in front of, you want to win at home," said lefty Jon Lester, who fell to 9-14 with the loss. "It's home. You're comfortable. You don't have to stay in a hotel. Anytime you play bad here, it's obviously not a good season, so, yeah, having that support is huge. They've been great all year as far as showing up even though we've stunk, and we're going to keep trying to get us on track. We just haven't played very good for them."

The Red Sox jumped out first in this one, as Daniel Nava belted an RBI single in the second to make it 1-0.

Lester was in dominant form early, pitching a no-hitter through 4 1/3 innings.

Shortstop Jose Iglesias kept it going by making a brilliant stab in the hole to rob Evan Longoria of a hit to lead off the fifth.

But Jeff Keppinger came up next and belted a single to left.

With the no-hitter gone, things worsened for Lester, as Carlos Pena came up next and smashed a two-run homer to center, giving Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead. Ben Francisco made it back-to-back home runs, ripping one over the Monster.

"My stuff didn't change," Lester said. "I had good stuff through the whole game. But, yeah, two pitches. A good pitch to Keppinger. He did a good job of keeping his hands inside the ball. I felt like I threw a pretty good fastball down and away to Pena. The ball kind of backed up on me on the second homer. But, yeah, two pitches."

Pena, the pride of Haverhill, Mass., and Northeastern University -- not to mention a member of the 2006 Red Sox -- was loving it.

"I really got that one. I don't know how far it went, I knew I had connected with it pretty well," said Pena, who has seven home runs lifetime against Lester, most of any active player. "I was surprised to see how far it went. When I saw [center fielder Scott] Podsednik turn around, I'm like 'Great, he can't get it, can't catch it.'"

It was an all-too familiar sight for Lester.

"If I knew, it wouldn't be that way," Lester said. "Everybody has that guy. He's pretty good against other guys, and he's really good against me. It is what it is."

In essence, this night was sort of the story of the season for Lester and the Red Sox.

"Lester, like I said before the game, he was a little on the bottom of his tank but he pitched great," Valentine said. "You know, who would have thunk it's big Carlos Pena against left-handers that beat us, but I guess that's the way the season's been going. He made really good pitches the whole night, the 2-1 pitch to Pena out over the plate might have been in a sweet spot, but he grounds out to second a lot on that pitch too. He gave us six innings, four hits and with a little more offense, he might have been able to give us a win."

"I was down in the tank because I was sick," Lester said. "I'm still taking the ball. I'm still grinding it out. I've just been under the weather the last couple of days. That fifth inning really took a lot out of me. I didn't think it was fair for me to go back out there when I didn't have anything. I just went ahead and told them that."

The Red Sox tried to rally back in the sixth, as Dustin Pedroia led off with a walk and then stole his 100th career base. Cody Ross smacked a single to right, putting runners at the corners with none out. James Loney plated a run with a sacrifice fly to right, making it 3-2. But Jake McGee escaped without further damage, striking out Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway.

Jose Lobaton added an insurance run in the seventh, belting a ground-rule double.

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.