BOSTON -- There was no late-inning magic for the Red Sox on Sunday, and they fell to the Royals, 4-2.
But if Ryan Dempster allowing four runs over seven innings registers as the worst outing by a Red Sox starter in 2013, this team is doing all right.
Dempster's start wasn't all that bad, as the 35-year-old finished with eight strikeouts and had the Royals off-balance for much of the afternoon.
"I thought he pitched with equal effectiveness, as he has in previous starts this season," said manager John Farrell.
Still, the 16-game streak in which Boston starters allowed three runs or fewer finally came to an end.
The loss ended Boston's winning streak at seven, but at 12-5, they were in first place heading into the second portion of the doubleheader.
Dempster got off to a rough start, allowing a first-inning home run off the bat of Alcides Escobar that sailed into the Green Monster seats. It was Escobar's 16th home run in 521 career Major League games.
Dempster then worked easily through the second and third innings before running into trouble in the fourth. Billy Butler, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas collected three straight hits, including a double by Cain that plated two runs. Cain later scored on a two-out single by Salvador Perez.
Perez cranked a 1-1 slider into left-center field.
"It was a huge, clutch at-bat, there's no minimizing that," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "After the way that Dempster pitched [to Mike Moustakas and Jeff Francoeur], for Sal to get a ball up and get it into the outfield ... Well, it was a game-winner. A huge at-bat."
Dempster needed 107 pitches, 71 of which were strikes, to get through his seven innings. Although he's still looking for his first win in a Red Sox uniform, he has now struck out at least seven batters in 10 of his last 12 starts dating back to his time with the Rangers last season. No pitcher in the Majors has more seven-plus-strikeout games in that time.
But the Royals, who strike out less than any team in the Majors, were often aggressive early in the count.
"First-pitch base hit to Butler, first-pitch double by Cain -- they attacked him early in the count as he's trying to get ahead," Farrell said. "Still, the three runs allowed, we felt like that early in the ballgame, we still had opportunities. [Ervin] Santana kept us in check. But I thought Ryan did a very good job for us."
With Shane Victorino on the bench with tightness in his lower back, Daniel Nava was bumped up to the two-spot in the batting order, and he smacked a single into right field in his first at-bat. Dustin Pedroia then singled before David Ortiz plated a run with a base hit to center.
Pedroia, who has reached base safely in all 17 games this season, scored on a Mike Napoli groundout.
But that was all the Red Sox could muster against Santana, who is having a renaissance this season after posting a 5.16 ERA in 2012, his final season with the Angels. The 30-year-old right-hander struck out seven over seven innings to improve to 2-1 with a 2.48 ERA.
The Sox loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth, but Jarrod Saltalamacchia bounced a soft grounder to pitcher Aaron Crow with two outs to kill the rally.
"I was sitting fastball the whole at-bat," said Saltalamacchia. "I wanted to put a good swing on it, got to 2-0, good hitter's count, he threw the fastball I wanted, out over the plate, I maybe just got a little too big and hit it toward the end of the bat. You know, more times than not, I'm happy with that swing. I've just got to do a better job of getting guys in."
Ortiz finished with three hits and is 5-for-8 since returning from the 15-day disabled list. Nava finished 2-for-4 to raise his season average to .357.
The Red Sox are now 1-4 on the season when scoring two runs or fewer. They're 2-4 when allowing four runs or more.