Daisuke Matsuzaka again teased Red Sox Nation with thoughts of a no-hitter before reverting to the wildness that Boston fans have been forced to stomach the past two seasons.
The Japanese right-hander didn't allow a hit until the fourth inning Thursday night and then unravelled shortly thereafter, walking five batters and tossing in a wild pitch as visiting Kansas City mustered just one hit in a three-run fifth en route to a 4-3 win.
Matsuzaka, who took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against Philadelphia in his previous start, matched a career high with eight walks as Boston's five-game win streak came to an end.
"He's the most relaxed one out there and we are all on the edge of our seats," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona of Matsuzaka. "Obviously eight walks, a hit batter and a wild pitch … it is a hard way to be successful."
Ellsbury sits for Bosox
Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury still has soreness in his left side and was out of the lineup for Boston's game against the visiting Kansas City Royals on Thursday
Team doctor Thomas Gill was to examine Ellsbury on Thursday night after the centre-fielder undergoes magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests. The Boston Herald reported Ellsbury will be re-examined at 11 a.m. ET Friday.
Red Sox manager Terry Francona says the team has to figure out what is going on with Ellsbury.
"He's really tender," Francona told MLB.com. "We got to get to the bottom of this. We're not at the bottom of it. We don't want to rush into putting him on the [disabled list]. At the same time, he's not ready to play because of the way he feels."
Ellsbury was injured in a game against Kansas City on April 11 when he collided with Red Sox third baseman Adrian Beltre and was kneed in the ribs.
He missed 37 games with a hairline fracture in four ribs on his left side before returning May 22 against Philadelphia. He played in three games and went 1-for-14 and hasn't played since Monday.
Ellsbury said after Wednesday's game that there was still pain in the area where the ribs were broken.
— Associated Press
In six starts this season, the Red Sox hurler has allowed five or more runs three times and tossed in two beauties. One of his stellar efforts came against the idle Toronto Blue Jays, who moved into a third-place tie with Boston by virtue of Thursday's result. Both teams sport 27-22 records.
Their American League East rivals, the New York Yankees, dropped an 8-2 decision to Minnesota and remain in second place at 28-19, two games ahead of Boston and Toronto.
Struggling with command
Matsuzaka, who exited the game with two outs in the fifth after throwing 112 pitches, saw his record fall to 3-2 on the season and his earned-run average rise to 5.77.
"I don't know what the answer is, but we will continue to try and figure it out," Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek said. "He was obviously struggling with his command."
Matsuzaka began the fifth inning by walking Chris Getz and Mike Aviles, two of the first three batters he faced. A David DeJesus single and two walks later, the Royals had taken a 2-1 lead.
After Alberto Callaspo grounded into a force out, Billy Butler trotted home on a wild pitch to make it a two-run game. A walk to Mitch Maier ended Matsuzaka's night.
"We had the bases loaded [in the fourth inning] and Matsuzaka made some good pitches, but I told them to come back in next inning and load them up again and they did," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "We knew the Red Sox had been hot, but we feel pretty good about ourselves and it showed."
Jeff Nelson came on and got Jason Kendall to fly out to centre with the bases loaded.
Hall goes deep
Red Sox centre-fielder Bill Hall cut the deficit in half in the bottom of the fifth with a home run to left field, the fifth long ball Kansas City starter Brian Bannister has allowed in four career starts at Fenway Park.
DeJesus increased the lead for K.C. to 4-2 when he doubled off the left-field wall to drive home Mike Aviles in the sixth.
Varitek added a run-scoring double in the bottom half of the sixth.
Bannister allowed three runs and struck out four over six innings for his third straight win and first in five attempts at Boston. He improved to 4-3 on the season.
"I haven't won here so it is good to get over that hump," Bannister said. "This is how it is supposed to look … the 'pen did their job, we fielded well and we hit well."
Joakim Soria, who earned his 100th career save on Wednesday, got the final three outs in Boston for save No. 12 of the season for the 20-28 Royals, who won their second in a row on the heels of a three-game losing skid and are 6-21 at Fenway since the start of the 2003 campaign.
Kansas City entered play Thursday leading the majors with a .280 batting average, but scratched out only four hits against Matsuzaka, Nelson, Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez.
Butler had one of the hits to raise his average to a team-high .348, while J.D. Drew posted his second three-hit game of the season for Boston.