Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine liked what he saw from his team in the ninth inning — the fight, spirit and adrenaline.
He wasn’t talking about their play, though, after the Red Sox failed for the fourth time this season to eclipse the .500 mark with a 7-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night.
Valentine was describing his team’s passion during a benches-clearing scrum in the ninth inning when reliever Franklin Morales hit Luke Scott with a pitch, sending both teams storming onto the field and tempers flaring.
”They were out there, we were out there. I liked the spirit of the guys going out there,” Valentine said. ”I had a little adrenaline going and the guys had some adrenaline going, so that’s good. Nothing wrong with that.”
It wasn’t only one pitch that sparked this scuffle, just another chapter in the long-running feud between these teams. They had a brawl in 2008 and another a few years earlier.
Morales insists he was just trying to go inside with the first pitch of Scott’s at-bat, a two-seamer that sailed behind the designated hitter’s back.
Three pitches later, the benches and bullpens were empty after he nailed him in the hip.
”I tried to make my pitch inside and I missed and said I’m sorry,” Morales said. ”I don’t try to hit any player, no.
”He don’t say anything to me,” he added of Scott. ”He tried to look at me, like, `What happened?’ I don’t try to hit anybody. I missed the pitch. I don’t try to do that on purpose.”
Valentine had another, more intriguing hypothesis, referencing Scott’s comments earlier this season when he called Fenway Park a ”dump.” Scott eventually clarified his statement by saying it is just a difficult place to work.
”Maybe it was the ghost of Fenway past remembering that he bad-mouthed all our fans and our stadium or something, just directing the ball at his leg,” Valentine mused.
Rays manager Joe Maddon felt it was clearly Boston’s fault.
”That’s truly somebody flexing their muscles on the other side and they need to put them in their back pocket and understand they can hurt their own team for something like that,” Maddon said. ”To be really carelessly incompetent on their side and truly try to hit someone and throw behind somebody and hitting them in the leg for all the wrong reasons eventually they can get their own guys hurt. That was ridiculous. It was absurd, idiotic. I’ll use all those words.”
Boston’s Jon Lester (3-4) surrendered three home runs, a third-inning grand slam to Matt Joyce and back-to-back blasts by Elliot Johnson and Carlos Pena in the fourth that made it 7-1, and was done after just four innings. The left-hander surrendered seven runs and six hits, walking three and striking out four.
”We worked so hard to get back to .500, we were playing good baseball,” Lester said. ”I come out and have a performance like this, it’s just unacceptable.”
It was Joyce’s second grand slam in six games.
Adrian Gonzalez had an RBI double for Boston, which lost for just the fourth time in 14 games.
It’s the latest into a season the Red Sox (22-23) haven’t gone over .500 since 1996 when they didn’t do it until late August.
Boston pitching coach Bob McClure and Ben Zobrist of the Rays seemed to be the two most heated in the ninth inning, but they were separated. When things cooled down, Boston DH David Ortiz patted Scott on the back and walked him partly to first. A few fans and Rays players were yelling at each other near Tampa Bay’s dugout when the players left the field after the incident.
Alex Cobb (2-0), making his second start since being recalled from Triple-A Durham to take Jeff Niemann’s spot in the rotation after the right-hander broke his right fibula, held Boston to two runs and three hits, while walking four and striking out two in five innings.
Fernando Rodney got his 15th save in 15 chances.
Trailing 1-0 in the third, the Rays took the lead on Joyce’s slam into the Red Sox bullpen, his second in 13 at-bats. The other came in a 5-2 win over Atlanta on May 19, also Cobb’s start. Tampa Bay had loaded the bases on a single by B.J. Upton that was sandwiched by walks to Pena and Zobrist.
Johnson and Pena homered three pitches apart in the fourth, increasing the Rays’ lead to 7-1. Johnson’s went into the Green Monster seats and Pena, hitting leadoff for the third straight game after going 0 for 17, hit his into the first row of seats down the right-field line, just past Marlon Byrd’s leap into the stands.
Pena has gone 4 for 12 with two homers and four RBIs since being moved to the top of the order.
Boston cut it to 7-2 on Gonzalez’s RBI double off the Monster, but Cobb got Kevin Youkilis to bounce into an inning-ending ground out with runners on second and third. It was the last batter he faced.
Byrd had an RBI single and Mike Aviles a sacrifice fly, narrowing the gap to 7-4 in the sixth.
The Red Sox had taken a 1-0 lead in the first on Youkilis’ RBI single.
NOTES: Scott looked like he was endearing himself to the fans a bit before the game near Tampa Bay’s dugout during batting practice, tossing at least a half dozen balls to fans, joking with a number and signing autographs for many. During his last trip to Boston, when the Rays were the opponent for the season-opening series of Fenway Park’s 100th year, Scott was booed nearly every time he came to bat. … Boston RHP Josh Beckett (4-4) faces David Price (6-3) on Saturday night. … The Red Sox were off Thursday following a stretch of 20 games in 20 days.