A's see early lead vanish in loss to Red Sox
Handed three-run lead, Sheets can't keep Boston bats in check
BOSTON -- Ben Sheets works rather quickly on the mound.
Always has in his nine-year career.
Thus, an interesting scene unfolded Wednesday night when -- for the first time -- the veteran right-hander took to the bump against the Red Sox, a team notoriously known for compiling lengthy at-bats.
The combination, as expected, made for good entertainment. Sheets battled, worked in some offspeed magic and continually improved on the velocity of his once lagging fastball. Yet, said fastball got him into trouble one too many times.
As a result, Sheets walked away with his fourth loss of the season and Oakland was left on the wrong end for the second consecutive night at Fenway Park -- this time in a 6-4 defeat at the hands of a feisty Boston lineup that left the A's one game behind the first-place Rangers in the American League West standings.
Kurt Suzuki, who entered the game having hit safely in each of his 22 career starts against Boston, quickly extended that mark when he belted a two-run homer off Daisuke Matsuzaka to left field in the top of the first to give Sheets a 3-0 lead.
Dice-K, who allowed eight free passes in his previous outing, had no such trouble throwing strikes in the frame. In fact, Oakland hit four of them.
"At the beginning of the game -- and I hate to say this -- there were almost too many strikes," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "He worked ahead, and he got hurt when he was ahead in the count to Suzuki. But if that's a problem, we'll take it."
The 3-0 lead -- a good dose of hope for the A's -- faded fast, much like the club's 4-0 lead did the night before in an eventual 9-4 loss. This one, under a warm Boston sun, started melting even quicker.
Less than 10 minutes after Suzuki's long ball left the yard, Kevin Youkilis narrowed Oakland's lead to one thanks to a two-run single off Sheets, who surrendered three hits in the frame.
"The first inning kind of stunk," Sheets admitted.
Unfortunately for the A's right-hander, the fifth frame stunk a bit more.
Following Youkilis' game-changing at-bat, Sheets managed to retire nine of the next 11 batters before giving up a double to Darnell McDonald to lead off the fifth. He tallied two more outs, staging a battle with David Ortiz, who rung up a 3-2 count before hitting a go-ahead two-run homer to right field.
"I thought a fastball inside was a good approach," Sheets said. "But looking back, I realized I threw him the same pitch back to back. I tried to elevate the second one a little more, but he just turned on it."
"We tried to get him in," Suzuki said. "[Sheets] was being aggressive in the strike zone and went right after him. That's the type of pitcher he is."
In the meantime, Dice-K put to rest his eventful first inning and retired 14 of the next 19 A's batters, who finally forced his exit with two outs in the seventh having tagged him for 10 hits.
"He found his breaking ball and had pretty good command of the inside corner of the plate," manager Bob Geren said of the pitcher's transformation. "He's struggled with his command this year, and that's why his numbers are up. He seemed to find it, and it shows how a few inches here and there make a big difference for a guy like that."
Said Suzuki: "With the type of pitchers they have, you have to get to them early. Once they get into a groove, they're pretty darn good. He was basically throwing every pitch for a strike after the first inning and locating the ball better."
Sheets took the loss and moved to 2-4 on the season following six innings of work, which resulted in four runs on seven hits with one walk and one strikeout.
"I was up and down today," he said. "I'm still working on being consistent with good arm speed. I didn't think it was great by any means."
Neither was the A's offensive performance, which included eight men left on base. After the three-run first, Oakland put several zeros on the scoreboard before Kevin Kouzmanoff notched his first career pinch-hit homer in the ninth, a blast over the Green Monster off Jonathan Papelbon.
However, that was after Boston had scored another run against reliever Brad Ziegler, whose nine-inning scoreless streak came to an end when he allowed an RBI double to Dustin Pedroia in the seventh frame. And it was after they got Craig Breslow for one in the eighth on former A's player Marco Scutaro's RBI base hit.
"It seems like everybody in their lineup had a 3-2 count," Suzuki said. "They're patient. They wait for pitches and make you throw strikes.
"The bottom line was we didn't get the job done."
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.