PITTSBURGH — Boston manager Terry Francona got the matchup he wanted, just not the result.
Forced to drop designated hitter David Ortiz from the lineup because of National League rules, Francona still found the perfect spot to send Ortiz to the plate on Friday night against Pittsburgh.
Ortiz stepped in representing the go-ahead run against Pirates reliever Jose Veras. Seven pitches — and a well-timed deluge — later, Ortiz grounded out meekly to short and the Red Sox were on their way to a 3-1 loss.
“We wanted David to hit hopefully with the game on the line,” Francona said. “We had the right guy up in that situation and he made a good swing, but they had a guy standing right there with the shift on. It was a good at-bat and a tough at-bat because of the rain.”
Ortiz joked “what’s wrong with Mother Nature” afterward, but knows the brief downpour had little to do with Boston’s third straight loss.
“I thought I put a good swing on it,” he said.
Veras made an even better pitch, the two runners stranded representing the last of the 11 the Red Sox left on base as Pittsburgh (38-37) crept back above .500.
“There’s a time when you’ve got to make a decision to face a guy like David Ortiz,” Veras said. “You’ve got to know what he does. He’s a great hitter power-wise, so you’ve got to have a plan for those guys … you’ve got to make quality pitches to that guy so that you don’t pay for it.”
Boston didn’t make the Pirates pay nearly enough. The Red Sox clogged the bases all night, but baseball’s most potent offense couldn’t get the big hit and have managed just six runs during their three-game slide.
“I don’t think we can go all year hitting like we were hitting,” Francona said. “We had it going so good for so long that it was bound to end at some point. The key is you have to minimize these bad streaks and maximize the good ones.”
Boston starter Jon Lester (9-4) pitched six solid innings but failed to become the AL’s first 10-game winner, giving up three runs, two earned, while striking out five and walking one.
“I threw the ball pretty well, kept the ball down,” Lester said. “Other than two hits tonight, nothing else was squared up. I’ll take my chances with that every time.”
Francona hinted before the game he may consider playing Ortiz at first and send normal first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to right field during Boston’s nine-game interleague road trip, but opted not to take a chance on Friday because he didn’t want to put any more stress on his team’s already suspect defense.
Instead Mike Cameron got the start in right, but the veteran badly misplayed a flyball from Mike McKenry in the second. Cameron charged in to make the catch but misjudged the flight and the ball skipped past him, allowing the Pirates to get runners on second and third with no outs.
The miscue, officially ruled a double, helped the Pirates take a 2-1 lead they wouldn’t give up.
Jose Tabata and Lyle Overbay each had two hits and an RBI for the Pirates and Paul Maholm (4-8) beat an American League team for the first time in nearly two years by surviving 5 1-3 eventful innings.
Joel Hanrahan worked a perfect ninth to pick up his 21st save in as many chances, his three easy outs capping an effective performance from five Pittsburgh’s relievers, who made a slim lead stand up by shutting down baseball’s best offense over the final 3 2-3 innings.
“We had some work to do once Paul left the game, and we were able to match up well to get the guys in to face the guys that we felt that we might have had an advantage,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “We made the good pitches when we needed to.”
Gonzalez had two hits to bump his major league-leading average to .360, but the Red Sox lacked the pop that has made them baseball’s hottest team over the past two months.
The Pirates and their $45 million payroll are off to their best start in a dozen years. They saw the weekend series against the Red Sox — whose $160 million payroll nearly quadruples Pittsburgh’s — as an opportunity to make a statement.
For a night anyway, they managed to hang with the AL East leaders.
“The bullpen picked me up big, the defense picked me up big,” Maholm said. “It was kind of an overall scrappy win for us.”
NOTES: Pittsburgh 3B Chase d’Arnaud picked up his first major league hit with a triple to left in the fifth inning. … The Red Sox’s rained out game against Baltimore on May 17 has been rescheduled for Sept. 19. … Boston RHP Bobby Jenks will make a minor league rehabilitation appearance on Saturday for Double-A Portland. Jenks hasn’t pitched since June 7 due to a strained back. … The game served as a homecoming for Francona, who grew up in New Brighton, about 45 minutes northwest of Pittsburgh. He estimated a couple of busloads of friends from the town were coming to the game.