Jennings shines, but bullpen falters
Hard-luck starter loses shot at first victory of 2008
BOSTON -- The Rangers have reason to feel a little better about Jason Jennings. Joaquin Benoit is another matter.This is not what they expected from the setup man who was the Rangers' Pitcher of the Year in 2007. Instead, Benoit experienced his second straight rough outing, and this time Texas couldn't overcome the damage Benoit, inserted to hold a one-run lead, gave up three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning as the Red Sox rallied for a 5-3 victory over the Rangers at Fenway Park on Saturday night. Manny Ramirez's two-run home run in the eighth proved to be the difference in Boston's second straight victory over Texas. "We played a pretty good game, but it wasn't good enough," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. Benoit also struggled last Wednesday in Toronto when he allowed three runs on a hit and three walks in one-third of an inning. On that night, Benoit had trouble throwing strikes. The Rangers thought he was better on Saturday night, but he wasn't good enough to get the ball to closer C.J. Wilson in the ninth and preserve what could have been Jennings' first victory of the season. "I thought Jennings was outstanding," Washington said. "He kept them off-balance and did exactly what he needed to do. We had the right pitchers on the mound at the right time, but they just rose to the occasion and took it from us." Jennings, who entered the game with an 8.79 ERA, gave the Rangers his first quality start in four outings. Relying mainly on a cut fastball to keep the Red Sox off the Green Monster left-field wall, Jennings allowed just two runs in six innings. Both came across in the first inning, and Jennings allowed just a walk and an infield hit after that, retiring the last 10 batters he faced. "It was good I finally gave us a quality start and give us an opportunity to win the game," Jennings said. "From that aspect, I was pleased. But coming away with a loss is a little frustrating. "I felt like I was able to get the ball down in the zone and hit my spots more consistently. But I have to build on it. One game is not going to get it. I have to repeat it." Jennings left with a 3-2 lead, and Jamey Wright kept it there with a scoreless seventh. Maybe the Rangers could have breathed easier if they had been better than 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position, but they're hitting only .202 in those situations on the season. That doesn't change the fact that they were six outs away from victory and couldn't get there. "[It's] very tough," said outfielder Josh Hamilton, who hit his fourth home run of the year. "It's going to happen. This crowd gets into it, and when [the Red Sox] get something going, they feed off it." Benoit got one out when Jacoby Ellsbury popped out. But Dustin Pedrioa hit a double off the wall just out of left-fielder German Duran's reach to get the rally started. Then came a crucial play. David Ortiz was up, and second baseman Ian Kinsler was playing him well into the outfield grass. Ortiz slammed a grounder to Kinsler's right, and he tried to make a diving stop. But the ball slithered past him just far enough to allow Pedroia to score the tying run. That brought up Ramirez. "That's a tough play out there," Kinsler said. "Different angle, and you're dealing with the grass. Obviously, he hit the ball hard, and it just got by." Washington said if Kinsler had made the diving stop, he'd have thrown out the slow-footed Ortiz and it'd have been a different game. He said with two outs, a runner on third and a one-run lead, he'd have walked Ramirez intentionally and let Benoit pitch to Kevin Youkilis. Instead, Benoit went after Ramirez. He got ahead, 0-1, then put a fastball at the knees and Ramirez crushed it, hitting over the Green Monster, high off a light pole and into the darkness beyond. "Pretty swing, isn't it," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "Good pitch, bad result," Rangers pitching coach Mark Connor said. "It wasn't like it was a hanging changeup. Manny was sitting on it, he swung at it and got it. He's a great hitter." Benoit got the next two hitters, but walked off the mound with his ERA up to 8.53 for the season. Connor, in reviewing the inning, was not dismayed. "Basically, he had punched out eight in a row in his previous two or three outings; now he's had two rough outings," Connor said. "I thought he threw the ball better than he did in Toronto. He gives up a fly ball that's a double here, a ground ball just out of Kinsler's reach and Manny beat him. What can you say?" Benoit had an answer to that one when approached after the game. "I don't have anything for you tonight," Benoit said as he headed to the showers.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.