Shields pitches better, but Sox fall 8-7 in series finale
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By Daryl Van Schouwen
BOSTON -— James Shields has pitched in big games before, but this one had its own element of huge for altogether different reasons than postseason performances, September showdowns and everything else.
After four consecutive horrific starts for the 34-year-old right-hander, including the last three after the White Sox acquired him in what was thought to be a pivotal trade, Shields faced a formidable Boston Red Sox lineup at cozy Fenway Park in an 8-7 loss in 10 innings and looked more like — much to the relief of manager Robin Ventura and everyone else associated with the Sox — more like the pitcher they expected to get.
‘‘He just looked better as far as rhythm and all that,’’ Ventura said. ‘‘If he gets ahead and is able to use his offspeed stuff, that was the big difference today.’’
Problem was, Shields left a troubled and thinning White Sox bullpen with 12 outs to get, and Matt Albers, Chris Beck, Nate Jones and Matt Purke weren’t up to the task.
Shields, leading 4-1, set the unraveling in motion on his own, though, by walking two Red Sox to open the sixth.
‘‘Overall, pretty decent,’’ said Shields, who fine-tuned some delivery issues between starts and allowed three runs (earned) on five hits and four walks with three strikeouts. ‘‘It was a positive one.’’
Shields was kicking himself for the walks in the sixth but overall called the outing a ‘‘positive.’’
‘‘I’ve been around the game a while, I’ve got a lot more in the tank. Body feels great, so we’ll move forward.’’
After Shields left, with 99 pitches thrown, the game continued to get away. Albers hit Jackie Bradley Jr. and watched Hanley Ramirez’s slow chopper behind him go for an infield single plus a throwing error by second baseman Brett Lawrie added on, the throw bouncing past first baseman Jose Abreu as two runs scored. The tying run came across on pinch hitter Sandy Leon’s single and a go-ahead run on Marco Hernandez’s fielder’s choice grounder against Dan Jennings.
It turned out to be that kind of game — sloppy defensively (two errors), bad pitching (nine walks), and two chances with the bases loaded and no outs to score with nothing to show for them.
The Sox did take back the lead on Abreu’s three-run homer in the seventh, but the Red Sox chipped away with a run in the seventh and eighth and won it in the 10th on Xander Bogaerts’ walk-off single against lefty Purke, who had walked two batters before that.
The bullpen breakdown, after Sox relievers had combined to pitch nine scoreless innings in the first three games of the series, prevented the Sox from claiming a monumental sweep — they hadn’t taken four from the Red Sox in Boston since 1927.
Instead the Sox go home feeling just OK about taking three of four after starting the trip with three losses in Cleveland.
They couldn’t feel anything but sick, though, about loading the bases with nobody out in the eighth and 10th with Lawrie, Alex Avila (four singles) and Avisail Garcia each time, only to have J.B. Shuck (shallow fly, pop-up), Tim Anderson (strikeouts) and Adam Eaton (groundout, strikeout) fail to score them.
‘‘We had some golden opportunities,’’ Ventura said.
The Sox (36-37) play 12 of the next 15 games at home, starting with three against the Blue Jays this weekend.
‘‘We can get going,’’ Eaton said. ‘‘We take three games from a really good team and that should give us confidence going forward.’’
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