The Red Sox couldn’t complete another comeback, losing to a team that began the day 17 games behind them in the standings and starting a pitcher who’d recently been demoted from their rotation. They stranded five runners over the final two innings, went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position, and basically gave the Blue Jays a run early by committing two throwing errors on the same play.
They lost a game on their lead over the Rays in the AL East. And they fell for the fourth time in six tilts, now needing a win Thursday to salvage a split on a 10-game roadtrip that featured visits to two last-place clubs. It was a bad loss.
But, looking at the bigger picture, Wednesday was a good day for the Red Sox.
It was a good day because although the Sox left the bases loaded afterward, then men on first and second in the 10th, Mike Napoli’s two-out, game-tying home run in the ninth could be just the spark of confidence needed to snap a brutal slump that’s left Boston without one of its big middle-of-the-order bats for the better part of a month. He was brought here to hit fifth, and to mash lefties, but Napoli was dropped to seventh in the lineup on Wednesday night, and while doing so Manager John Farrell suggested Mike Carp or Daniel Nava could soon be getting more regular playing time at first base. Napoli needs to first make consistent contact, then start slugging again in order to reestablish himself. Wednesday was a good start on both of those goals.
It was a good day because before the night began, Clay Buchholz threw a 50-pitch bullpen session – ramping up as high as 80 or 85 percent of max effort – and came through with no soreness. There’s still a lot of progress to be made before he’s pitching again in the big leagues, and we should know by now to anticipate some sort of setback, but Wednesday at least flashed some light at the end of a tunnel the Sox hopes leads to their ace on the mound in the playoffs.
It was a good day because, despite incurring the loss, Brandon Workman continued to prove himself out of the bullpen. After striking out three of the six hitters he faced on Saturday in Kansas City, he stranded the only runner he inherited from Jon Lester in the seventh, then allowed only a walk between the eighth and the ninth. Eventually the Jays reached for a run in the 10th, but overall the manager trusted him to keep the score where it was, then tested him by keeping him in with the game on the line, and he responded well enough to get more of those opportunities moving forward.
It was a good day because Workman’s length allowed Farrell to stay away from what has become the big three at the back of his bullpen – Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, and Koji Uehara – and every high-pressure inning spared from those arms could be important coming down the stretch and into an October.
It was a good day because Jon Lester showed an ability to grind through and keep his team in the game. The lefty didn’t have his best stuff -- allowing six hits and two walks, hitting a batter, and generating only five swing-and-miss strikes in 114 pitches – and he didn’t help himself by committing two errors. But with all those baserunners, and all the trouble he’s had lately making pitches with two outs, or two strikes, or with men on base, it was a positive sign for the Sox to see Lester battle his way through.
It was a good day because Will Middlebrooks continues to play like he belongs at this level. He doubled and was hit by a pitch in four trips, moving him to .400 with a .471/.533/1.004 slash line in four games since his recall from Pawtucket. He looks comfortable again, which couldn’t be said before he was sent down.
And it was a good day because for as poorly as they played, the Sox still found themselves in position to win the game. Much has been made of their attitude, character, chemistry, and whatever other intangibles they’ve used to pull so many games out of the fire – and all that praise is valid and true and warranted. But sometimes in giving so much credit to those emotional attributes we undersell the talent on this team, and underrate it from a pure baseball perspective. More than anything, it takes good players for a team to put itself a bloop or a bleeder away from stealing a game it has no business winning based on the way it played before that point.
Wednesday offered another reminder that the Red Sox have those good players – and that if Napoli can get himself going, if Buchholz continues working his way back, if Workman can fill a role in the bullpen, if Lester shows an ability to grind, and if Middlebrooks can contribute, this club should be deep in dangerous come October.
And more good days are still to come.
|Jacoby Ellsbury, CF||1-for-5, 2 K: His infield single loaded the bases for Shane Victorino in the ninth, but he was left there. That was the Sox’ only hit of the night with runners in scoring position, and it didn’t even result in a run.|
|Shane Victorino, RF||0-for-4, BB, K: He had a chance to play hero for a second straight night, but he flew out to left with the bases loaded and the game tied in the ninth. He also made his third error of the season as part of the comical sequence that allowed Rajai Davis to circle the bases after hitting the ball back to the pitcher.|
|Dustin Pedroia, 2B||1-for-5, 2 K: As much as it feels like Napoli has been struggling, consider that over the past four weeks, Pedroia’s average is only four points better (.194-.190) and his OPS is 135 points lower (.699-.564)|
|David Ortiz, DH||1-for-5, R, RBI, HR, K: A solo shot was good for his 23rd homer and 75th RBI of the year. He later tried to bunt his way on in the ninth – not a bad idea with the infield shifted and the Sox down by two – but his execution was awful, and he was thrown out.|
|Jonny Gomes, LF||1-for-4, R, BB, K: John Farrell suggested before the game that the competitiveness of Gomes’ at-bats against righties could earn him more opportunities. He had an infield hit off Esmil Rogers and saw a team-high 23 pitches for the night, ultimately walking off lefty Brett Cecil ahead of Napoli’s homer.|
|Stephen Drew, SSs||0-for-4, BB, K: The shortstop nearly came up with Brett Lawrie’s game-winning single, but it nipped off the end of his glove and went into left field.|
|Mike Napoli, 1B||1-for-5, R, 2 RBI, HR: How’s this for a surprise: Every Sox starter struck out at least once except Napoli. Sometimes all it takes is one big hit to turn things around, and his two-run, game-tying homer in the ninth would certainly qualify.|
|Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C||2-for-4, 2 K: He connected for two doubles, extending his career best and giving him 32 for the year. The second came in the ninth, when he was lifted for a pinch runner (Brock Holt).|
|Will Middlebrooks, 3B||1-for-3, 2B, HBP, K: Most encouraging about Middlebrooks’ double might’ve been that it came after he fell behind in the count 1-2. He subsequently laid off a pitch that went for a ball, then whacked his two-bagger to the opposite field.|
|Jon Lester, SP||6.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 K. He threw 72 of his 114 pitches for strikes, but the Blue Jays drove up his pitch count with 28 foul balls, and never allowed him to get through one inning completely cleanly.|
|Brandon Workman, RP||3 IP, ER, 2 H, 2 BB, 4 K: He’s now allowed five runs in 18.1 innings a starter, and 10 runs in 11 innings as a reliever. But over his last two appearances out of the bullpen he’s worked 5.1 innings while allowing only four hits and two walks, with one of those walks intentional and offset by seven strikeouts.|
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