KANSAS CITY -- The losses are mounting for the Red Sox, and each one seems more painful than the last. Following Wednesday's frustrating 4-3 defeat to the Royals, manager Bobby Valentine boiled over.
The object of Valentine's ire was not his baseball team, which is 12-18 on the season and has lost seven out of eight, but the choice of home-plate umpire Jeff Nelson not to ask for help on a controversial call in the top of the ninth inning.
The Red Sox appeared to have something going against Royals closer Jonathan Broxton when Cody Ross led off with a single and Jarrod Saltalamacchia drew a walk.
At that point, Valentine asked Marlon Byrd to move the runners up to second and third with a bunt, but it appeared a bonus was in the offing.
Byrd had his bat in the bunting position and the pitch hit him on the finger. The ball also hit the bat, and Nelson ruled it a foul ball, feeling as if Byrd offered at the pitch.
Valentine simply wanted Nelson to ask first-base umpire Tim Tschida for his opinion.
"Marlon bunted at that ball? He got hit [on the] finger," Valentine said. "I don't know why an umpire wouldn't check. I asked him five times to check with the first-base umpire."
What was Nelson's reason not to do so?
"We usually don't ask about a ball hitting a guy's hand based on an umpire that's 100 feet away," said Nelson. "You go on the best information that you have, and also, if the batter had been offering at the pitch and the pitch had hit his hand, the result would be a strike and a dead ball. But my ruling was a foul ball."
Later in that at-bat, Byrd did in fact get the bunt down, moving those runners to second and third with one out.
But Ryan Sweeney lined to left, with Alex Gordon making a sliding catch and popping back up as Red Sox third-base coach Jerry Royster held pinch-runner Darnell McDonald at third base. Mike Aviles grounded out to end the game.
One will never know how things might have transpired if Byrd had been awarded first base, which would have loaded the bases with nobody out.
"Yeah, it hit on my finger, but again, he had it hitting the bat," Byrd said. "It's one of those things. It's going a million miles an hour and he makes the best call he can."
Valentine didn't take it nearly as well as Byrd.
"Guys battled their butts off, that's all I know," Valentine said. "That's a [darn] shame. The umpire can't make a right call and get help to get it done. It's a [darn] shame is what it is. It's not his job to call the frigging play. Just get help. It's a shame is what that is.
"And then they don't want replay? If they can't get it right, they should frigging ask for help. They asked for help on the one on the outfield. I think they got it right. Why ... is it so hard to do it at the end of the game if they can do it at the beginning of the game?"
Ah, yes, the beginning of the game. That was another story.
If the Red Sox can at some point emerge from the funk that has engulfed them, an outfielder will not only make a fine running catch, but the ball will stay in his glove even as his momentum takes him to the wall.
Things are simply not going well at the moment, which makes adventures like the one Ross had in the first inning harder to swallow.
With the Red Sox down 1-0 and Jon Lester trying to get out of a jam, Brayan Pena drilled one to deep left. Ross raced back and flagged it down. But as his momentum carried him back a few steps, the ball bounced from Ross' glove, off the wall and back into his glove without hitting the ground. It was ruled a two-run double.
"I thought I caught the ball, took a couple good steps, then went to go brace myself against the chain-link fence, and the ball just kind of came out," Ross said. "I really didn't think anything of it. When I saw it pop out, I just kind of grabbed it, turned around and I expected to run off the field. And I saw Aviles waving at me to throw it, so I threw it in. I guess he thought that I didn't catch it.
"I asked him what the ruling was, and he said, 'When you catch the ball, you have to maintain control or on exchange.' So that was the ruling. It's a tough call for him. I haven't seen the replay. It ended up being a huge play for them."
Interestingly, Valentine thought the umpires got that one right, even though he went out to argue.
"I thought it hit off the wall," Valentine said. "I thought it hit his glove and then bounced off the wall. I didn't know that they saw that. It's not a catch unless you get it out of the glove voluntarily."
It wasn't the only time in the inning the Red Sox almost had the third out. With nobody on and two outs and the game still scoreless, Lester was convinced he struck out Billy Butler on a 1-2 pitch. Nelson called it a ball. Butler wound up walking.
And when Johnny Giavotella stepped up next and struck a liner to center, Byrd came over on the run, only to drop the ball for an error that allowed a run to score.
"It took off and I went across for it," said Byrd. "I thought I could get up high enough and it tipped off the inside of my glove and bounced out. It's just one of those things where I've got to make that and end the inning. You know, they kept going from there."
The 3-0 lead held until the third, when Adrian Gonzalez stepped up with the bases loaded and bashed a 3-2 pitch into the gap in right-center field for a game-tying three-run double.
The Royals moved in front in the fourth on an RBI double by Alcides Escobar.
"To get four runs off Jon Lester was huge," said Royals manager Ned Yost. "I don't know why, but [I] felt in the fourth inning with Escobar up, that fourth run was going to be really big for us. Even in the fourth inning, I felt like we needed to get that run in because I felt like it was going to be the winning run, which turned out to be the case."
Lester lasted just five innings, throwing 108 pitches. He allowed six hits and four runs, just one of which was earned.
After losing two out of three in Kansas City, the Red Sox head back to Fenway for a six-game homestand that starts on Thursday against the Indians.
They hope that this will finally be the homestand when they can get back in a groove.
"Nobody in this clubhouse came to this team, whether they're a free agent or got called up to this team or whatever, expecting to lose," Lester said. "Everybody in this clubhouse wants to win, everybody tries, everybody grinds their [butt] off every night, puts together good at-bats, puts together a plan before the game as far as what we're trying to and execute pitches. We're just not doing it -- plain and simple. Like I said, it's clichéd and it [stinks] to hear: We've got to keep showing up and keep grinding, putting together those good at-bats and those good plans. It'll turn around for us."