Since the earliest days of spring training, Red Sox manager John Farrell and his coaches have promoted the idea of putting pressure on the opposition by running the bases aggressively.
It is a strategy that has paid off. The Red Sox have the best record in the American League, along with the most runs, doubles, triples, and stolen bases.
Saturday’s 6-2 loss against Toronto was one of the rare games this season that approach was more frustrating that fruitful.
Let’s look at two key decisions during the game:
Decision 1: Toronto 2, Red Sox 0. Bottom of the 6th inning: Shane Victorino doubled to start the inning. When Dustin Pedroia hit a low line drive to right field, Victorino paused to make sure the ball was not caught by the second baseman.
With no outs and David Ortiz coming up, third base coach Brian Butterfield sent Victorino to the plate. Jose Bautista, who has one of the best outfield arms in the game, threw him out by two and a half steps.
Victorino’s only recourse was to plow into catcher J.P. Arencibia, but he held onto the ball.
“You’d like to have that one back. The fewer of those, the better. It’s the nature of the beast,” Butterfield said.
Ortiz singled but Blue Jays starter Esmil Rogers struck out Mike Napoli and Daniel Nava.
Farrell says: “We look to put pressure on the defense. In that situation Bautista’s ranging to his right, comes up and throws about a 260-foot strike. … I’ll live and die with every decision [Butterfield] makes at third base. He’s an outstanding third base coach.”
The argument for: The Sox have been aggressive all season, Victorino has good speed, and they hadn’t scored all day.
The argument against: Ortiz would have been at the plate with runners at first and third and no outs. You like your chances of scoring a run.
Decision 2: Toronto 2, Red Sox 0. Bottom of the 7th inning: Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled and went to third when Jose Iglesias bunted for a single and the Blue Jays threw the ball away.
With runners on the corners and no outs, Farrell called for a safety squeeze bunt.
Jonathan Diaz, a career minor leaguer who made major league debut on Saturday, bunted the ball back to 42-year-old pitcher Darren Oliver and Saltalamacchia was thrown out at the plate on a close play.
Farrell says: “Looking to force Darren Oliver to move off the mound and he makes a do-or-die play. Barehands it, throws it sidearm. Fortunately throws a strike for them.”
The argument for: Oliver isn’t especially spry. A better bunt scores the run easily.
The argument against: Salty is running. You’re asking a player in his third major league plate appearance to execute a play. The Sox would have been better served to have Jonny Gomes or Mike Carp at the plate.
Oliver has struggled against lefthanders this season, so Carp could have been the choice.
A few notes:
• Napoli struck out four times, leaving three runners on. He is 13 of 57 (.228) in his last 15 games with one extra-base hit and seven RBIs. Napoli’s last home run was June 1.
The Sox were convinced Napoli would hit well at Fenway. But his road OPS (.818) is better than it is at home (.755).
“I’m not feeling the best at the plate. You go through that,” Napoli said. “I’m getting deep in counts but I’m not getting it done.”
• Junichi Tazawa has allowed six runs on eight hits — four of them home runs — in six appearances and 5.1 innings against Toronto this season. The Sox need some relief help or he’s going to get worn down.
• After two days off to rest his sore right shoulder, Clay Buchholz played catch. The Sox are hopeful it’s the start of a program that will get him back on the mound within a few weeks. Buchholz has not pitched in a game since June 8 because of a sore trapezius muscle and inflammation in the bursa sac. Rookie Allen Webster will stay in the rotation.
• The Red Sox finally announced the signing of their second-round draft pick, junior college righthander Teddy Stankiewicz. Baseball America reported on June 10 that Stankiewicz agreed to a $1.1 million bonus. The player reported to Rookie League Lowell four days later and started working out.
• The Red Sox had scouts in Tijuana on Friday to watch righthander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, a Cuban defector who will soon be a free agent. Because Gonzalez is 26, his contract will not come under the international spending limits. There is speculation that Gonzalez will receive at least $30 million.