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BOS@CHC: Dice-K tosses six effective innings vs. Cubs

CHICAGO -- After nearly nine full innings of frustration on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, the Red Sox had the chance to end all of it if Dustin Pedroia could come up with that big hit.

With the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the ninth, Pedroia could have tied the game with an extra-base hit or, even better, put his team ahead with a grand slam.

Instead, he hit Carlos Marmol's 2-2 pitch off the end of the bat for a routine groundout, ending Boston's 3-0 loss to the Cubs.

At some point, the Red Sox are bound to start catching the breaks again in those late-inning situations. But Friday's ending perfectly summed up the way things have been going of late.

"We hit some balls good, man; we just hit it right to them," Pedroia said. "It's frustrating. We're not trying to be [bad]. Everyone's trying, man. We're just not playing good. We scored no runs. You can't win a game it you score zero runs. That's it. Come out tomorrow and play."

It was the third time Boston has been shut out this season, but the first since April 16.

The 31-33 Red Sox have lost six of their last nine games, having scored three runs or fewer in six of those contests.

Ryan Dempster had quite a bit to do with it on Friday, firing seven strong innings. Truth be told, however, the Red Sox are getting a little tired of tipping their collective cap.

"What are you going to do? We had good at-bats," said Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis. "I don't know. Maybe get some voodoo or something going. We had some balls hit hard. That just stunk. It really did. For what showed up on the board with runs, it wasn't how we swung the bats. We swung the bats pretty good. Just, man, we couldn't get anything to fall."

Back at Wrigley Field for the first time since 2005, the Red Sox found the visit to be a little less nostalgic once the game started.

Daisuke Matsuzaka struggled in his first two innings but settled in by keeping the Cubs off the board in his final four.

Over six innings, the righty gave up four hits and three runs, walking three and striking out three. He is 0-2 with a 5.73 ERA in two starts since returning from Tommy John surgery.

"I really struggled with my command early on," Matsuzaka said through interpreter Jeff Cutler. "It was probably something small that needed adjustment, and it just took a long time -- took longer than I wanted to make that adjustment."

The Cubs entered Friday with the worst record in the Major Leagues, but they looked like a formidable team in this one, riding Dempster's arm and bat.

Dempster allowed four hits, all singles, and went 2-for-2 at the plate with a triple and a run scored.

Matsuzaka simply couldn't find the strike zone in the first inning, walking three batters to load the bases with two outs. The Cubs needed a big hit and they got one, as Steve Clevenger looped a two-run double down the line in left, just in front of Scott Podsednik.

"Well, the first inning obviously wasn't good," said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. "He couldn't control -- I don't know if it was the wind or what it was, but he didn't have good command of his fastball. They hit the foul line on that pop fly for a couple of runs. After that, he was pretty good."

It was the pitcher, of all people, who got the Cubs rolling in the bottom of the second. With one out, Dempster lined one down the line in right that saw Adrian Gonzalez make a diving attempt. Gonzalez was well short of making the catch, and Dempster roared into third for his second career triple.

Valentine felt Matsuzaka might have gotten a little careless with Dempster at the plate. Gonzalez, playing out of position for the last couple of weeks, went all out for the ball. The problem was that he airmailed cutoff man Pedroia, eliminating any chance of getting Dempster at third.

"I'd had almost the same play the other day, where it's in that corner and you go looking for it and it's an automatic triple," said Cubs right fielder David DeJesus. "It's tough, and I don't wish that on anybody. We'll take the triples on our side."

Stifled by Dempster for most of the afternoon, the Red Sox had their best chance against the right-hander in the seventh, when Nick Punto drew a two-out walk and Podsednik reached on an infield hit.

With runners on second and third, Pedroia lined one to right that hung up just long enough for DeJesus to snag it, ending the threat. Pedroia, who has struggled since returning from a right thumb injury, slammed his helmet in disgust.

"I thought it was down," said Pedroia. "He positioned himself good on the couple balls I hit [to] him."

Pedroia is 6-for-40 since returning from a thumb injury on June 5.

"I feel great," Pedroia said. "I'm hitting balls good, just no hits."

Unfortunately for the Red Sox, it seems to be a recurring theme. Youkilis, Gonzalez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia have also been struggling of late.

"You always get frustrated when you give good at-bats and don't get anything to show for it," said Valentine. "I know Salty's had a bunch of them, Dustin's had a bunch of them, Youk's had a bunch of them."

All the Red Sox can hope is that Saturday is the day they start falling in.

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