Avila walkoff homer in 11th off Melancon stuns 0-3 Sox
DETROIT - Mark Melancon slumped in a chair and stared straight into his locker Sunday afternoon, contemplating the worst moment of his career.
Charged with protecting a two-run lead in the bottom of the 11th inning for the Red Sox, Melancon allowed the Detroit Tigers to score three runs, the final two on a walkoff home run by Alex Avila.
The 13-12 loss was reminiscent of last September’s collapse, but somehow worse given that the team had shown the character missing last year - only to be denied its first victory when Melancon threw a hanging curveball that Avila hit just far enough to clear the wall in right field.
Adrian Gonzalez threw an arm around Melancon’s shoulders and whispered a few words. Vicente Padilla did the same. Other teammates patted him on the back.
“Keep your head up. Keep grinding,’’ Gonzalez said when asked what his message was. “A couple of weeks from now you’re not even going to remember it.’’
It may take longer than that.
Melancon got one out before Miguel Cabrera singled to right. The Red Sox then shifted their defense to the right side of the infield for lefthanded hitting Prince Fielder, but he adjusted his swing and grounded a ball through the vacant space at third base for a single.
A wild pitch and a sacrifice fly scored one run. Melancon got the count to 2-and-2 on Avila before making a mistake that left the Red Sox winless in their first three games.
“We needed to get that one today and that’s on my shoulders,’’ Melancon said. “I need to stay aggressive and not let these affect me and keep going. If I can ever sleep.’’
Jon Lester allowed one run in seven innings Thursday. In the 20 innings since, Sox pitchers have given up 24 earned runs on 33 hits, seven of them home runs.
The bullpen has been responsible for 10 earned runs over 11 1/3 innings. Alfredo Aceves, promoted to closer when Andrew Bailey underwent thumb surgery last week, blew his first save chance by allowing a three-run homer to Cabrera in the ninth.
Franklin Morales threw two scoreless innings and the Sox grabbed the lead back again, scoring twice in the top of the 11th on RBI singles by Nick Punto and Dustin Pedroia.
Then Melancon gave another lead away. It was the second walkoff loss in three games.
“We’re trying to figure out what to do,’’ manager Bobby Valentine said. “We’ll keep it a work in progress. We’re three days into this thing since we lost the closer.’’
Valentine reconfigured his lineup in the wake of the Sox scoring two runs in the first two games and striking out 19 times. Kevin Youkilis, Cody Ross, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia were benched in favor of Punto, Darnell McDonald, and Kelly Shoppach. It worked as the Sox collected 18 hits off eight Detroit pitchers, rallying from a 4-0 deficit in the first inning.
Still, it was only the seventh time in franchise history the Red Sox have scored 12 runs and lost, the first time since May 31, 1970 (a 22-13 loss).
“Guys played a hell of a game. That was a game to be proud of until the end,’’ Valentine said. “These guys are professional guys. This is as good a group of guys as I’ve ever been around. They know what they have to do and I believe they’ll continue to do it.’’
For now the Red Sox are an unbalanced team, their offense championship caliber and their pitching staff a shambles. Clay Buchholz, who had not pitched in the majors since last June 16 because of a back injury, lasted only four innings, giving up seven runs on eight hits.
Trailing, 4-0, after one inning and 5-2 after two, the Sox scored five runs in third to take their first lead of the season. David Ortiz had an RBI double. Mike Aviles (single), Punto (sac fly), and Jacoby Ellsbury (single) drove in runs. Another scored on a balk.
Detroit scored two more runs off Buchholz in the fourth. But Gonzalez belted a two-run homer in the sixth and Punto had an RBI single in the ninth as the Sox built a three-run lead. But that didn’t last.
“When this team scores 12 runs in a game, that should be a 100-percent win,’’ Buchholz said.
The Sox were 0-6 to start last season and recovered. But the memories of what happened in September linger. Going back to last season, the Sox have lost 23 of their last 30 games.
“Three games isn’t a start. We have 159 more,’’ Pedroia said. “We can win 10 in a row and we’re 10-3 and everyone will say we’re off to the best start in the world.’’
Right now, just one victory seems vital. The Red Sox will send 24-year-old lefty Felix Doubront against the Blue Jays Monday night. He has made three starts in his career.
“You never wish for this to happen, never,’’ Gonzalez said. “You’ve just got to keep coming out tomorrow and go after Toronto like if it’s the last game of the season. Got to go out there and get that win. It’s big for us.’’