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TORONTO — There’s always a fine line between trying to nurture young players when you’re out of the race, and trying to win games.
Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine didn’t think he crossed that line during a 5-0 loss to the Blue Jays Sunday at Rogers Centre, but he’ll get plenty of pushback on his decision.
In the seventh inning in a scoreless game with a 2-2 count to Jose Iglesias after Pedro Ciriaco had stolen second base to get into scoring position, Valentine sent up Daniel Nava to hit for the rookie shortstop.
“Just trying to get a run for Jon [Lester], obviously,” Valentine said. “Told Daniel, if [Ciriaco] steals second, you’ve got it. Otherwise, I was all set to play defense. I was pinch hit for [as a player] with the bases loaded, 3-and-2 count, and it didn’t ruin my confidence. I talked to [Iglesias]. He’ll get over it. He said, ‘Whatever’s right for the team,’ ”
Nava tapped to the pitcher for the final out.
Lester, who had been pitching well, unraveled in the bottom of the seventh and the Sox couldn’t finish off a three-game sweep of the Jays. Lester allowed three runs with two outs in the seventh en route to a 5-0 loss before 21,698.
Valentine was not only trying to get a win for Lester, he was also trying to get out of last place. The players have talked quite a bit the past few days of the importance of not finishing last so they can head into the offseason on a positive note. But Sunday didn’t help.
Iglesias is hitting .071 with two hits in 28 at-bats since his recall Aug. 25.
“I don’t think it was a make-or-break situation,” Valentine said. “He’s gotten one hit so far. He’ll have opportunity to get some hits. It’s not kindergarten here. You don’t think it was a good decision? So what? I think it was the right thing to do to try to win a game for a [pitcher] who’s busting his butt out there.”
While it would be understandable if a player were humiliated by being pinch hit for in mid-count, Iglesias said he understood.
“It was unusual,” he said. “He made his decision and what’s best for the team and I respect the decision. I was ready to hit. I’d put two good at-bats together today. But whatever decision he makes, I respect.”
Iglesias said he had “no idea” Valentine would do it. The manager didn’t even know he would do it until Ciriaco stole his 14th consecutive base.
Valentine was asked why he didn’t let Iglesias hit, and he said, “I did let him hit.”
“I was told to be ready,’’ Nava said. “Anyone who is on the bench, you know you got to be ready. I didn’t know the exact details when I could be going in, but if a guy comes off the bench, it doesn’t matter if it’s a new at-bat, fresh count, or in the middle – obviously, something I’ve never done before – but you still have to be ready.’’
Asked if he felt for Iglesias, Nava said, “Totally. But I think we were in a situation; it was a 0-0 game and we were trying to get a runner across. I’m sure Iggy was feeling like he normally does if he stayed in there. You don’t want to be that guy. It’s unfortunate for him that I was unable to get a knock and that it didn’t work out.’’
Lester had excellent control. He went from a seven-walk game in his last outing vs. the Yankees to allowing only one walk in seven innings. Valentine didn’t think Lester made many mistakes through most of his outing — until the seventh.
With two outs, Yan Gomes singled up the middle and was replaced by pinch runner Rajai Davis, who stole second. He scored easily on Omar Vizquel’s single to center. Adeiny Hechavarria followed with a two-run homer down the left field line.
The Sox were their own worst enemy, going 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position and constantly letting starter Brandon Morrow off the hook.
Dustin Pedroia singled and Jacoby Ellsbury walked with one out in the first, but the Sox couldn’t get anything out of it. In the second, right fielder Moises Sierra lost Ryan Lavarnway’s fly ball in the sun and it kicked into the stands for a ground-rule double with one out. But again, the Sox didn’t come away with a run. In the fourth, Cody Ross singled, and after an out Jarrod Saltalamacchia also singled. But Lavarnway flied out and Ciriaco popped out.
In the eighth, the Sox had runners at the corners with one out after Pedroia beat out an infield hit and Ellsbury singled. But Ross hit into a double play.
The missed opportunities left Lester having to be almost perfect, which he almost was over six but for a leadoff double in the third by Vizquel.
Lester worked out of a pickle in the fifth when the first two men reached, one on Lester’s throwing error to second on Gomes’s sacrifice bunt attempt. Lester got the next three hitters, Vizquel and Hechavarria on strikeouts and Anthony Gose on a grounder to shortstop.Continued...