BOSTON | The knockout blow, when it came Thursday afternoon, seemed little more than an extra kick in the teeth to the Royals in their 11-8 loss to the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.
Mike Lowell’s grand slam capped a six-run sixth inning that gave Boston an 11-3 lead. It was also the Red Sox’s second slam of the game.
J.D. Drew hit one in the second inning that made clear Royals starter Brian Bannister wasn’t going to muster up his usual afternoon magic and prevent Boston from completing a four-game sweep.
Lowell’s blast, though, proved to be the difference. It came against Jimmy Gobble after manager Trey Hillman opted against bringing in a warmed-up Yasuhiko Yabuta for a righty-righty matchup. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. Not much went right for the Royals in the series, which began Monday with Jon Lester pitching a no-hitter.
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The decision to stay with Gobble loomed large when the Royals began beating up the Boston bullpen. José Guillen homered in a two-run seventh against Craig Hansen and Miguel Olivo unloaded a three-run bomb against David Aardsma in the eighth.
Suddenly, the Royals only trailed by three. They even got the tying run to the plate in the ninth against Jonathan Papelbon before he closed out his 14th save in 16 opportunities.
Yes, the Royals did, finally, show some offensive stirrings after managing just four runs in the previous three games. Olivo matched a career high with five RBIs. Guillen had four hits and three RBIs.
But even that plus comes with an asterisk. The Royals stranded 13 runners, including at least one in each of the first seven innings. They repeatedly let a sub-par Daisuke Matsuzaka off the hook.
Matsusaka improved to 8-0 because he limited the Royals to three runs despite allowing six hits and six walks in 5 2/3 innings. Four relievers closed out Boston’s first four-game sweep of the Royals in nearly 20 years: July 15-17, 1988.
Bannister, 4-6, entered the game with a 10-1 record and a 2.65 ERA in 14 career afternoon starts. That included a 4-0 record and 0.62 ERA this season in four starts.
Form not only didn’t hold. The dam broke.
Bannister gave up seven runs and 12 hits in 5 1/3 innings, which hiked his overall ERA to 4.94.