OAKLAND — Bobby Valentine has tried to put a positive spin on losses this season, praising those players who performed well and defending those who didn’t.
Not tonight. Not after a 3-2 loss against Oakland.
Valentine was drumming his fingers on the desk in his small office as the postgame interview started. By the end, he was pounding a blue marker pen into the desk with enough force that it nearly shattered.
“I don’t like to lose. That’s what bothers me the most,” Valentine said as he stared at a wall.
As the season reached its midpoint, the 42-39 Sox had one of their most painful losses of the year. They took a 2-1 lead into the ninth inning before sloppy play cost them a chance to gain a game in the standings.
Alfredo Aceves (0-6) took the loss, but there was plenty of blame to go around after a poorly played game.
Ryan Kalish singled off Jerry Blevins and Mike Aviles walked to start the top of the ninth inning. Nick Punto was next in an obvious bunting situation.
He squared to bunt and popped the ball up to first baseman Chris Carter, who made a diving catch and threw to Jemile Weeks covering first base for a double play.
“Standard play. I just didn’t get the bunt down. Simple fundamental. Can’t make those mistakes,” said Punto, whose value to the team is supposed to be the ability to play small ball.
Valentine was angry about the lack of execution.
“We had first and second, no outs in the top of the ninth. That’s where the game was lost,” he said. “You can’t bunt into a double play there. That’s simple. We’ve got our best bunter on the team up. He’s got to be able to bunt the ball and get the guys over.”
Kalish was then thrown out trying to steal third. He had the throw beat but third baseman Brandon Inge had the bag blocked with his leg and Kalish was called out to end the inning.
“I wasn’t expecting a steal. If I don’t want him to go, I better hold him,” Valentine said. “They blocked the base on him. He had it stolen easy. Good play on their part, bad play on ours.
Kalish felt he was safe.
“Sometimes that’s just the way it goes,” he said. “I thought I got in there.”
Whether he was safe or not, there is a risk and reward at play. The risk to steal third is not worth the reward. Kalish almost certainly scores on a single with two outs from second.
The bottom of the inning was even worse.
Carter led off with a single before Cliff Pennington singled with one out. Pinch hitter Brandon Moss singled up the middle to score Carter with the tying run. Pennington went to third when Kalish overran the ball in center.
The error proved huge when Coco Crisp delivered a sacrifice fly to center field.
“I’ve got to play better defense,” Kalish said. “That’s the bottom line. When I get called up, that’s what I need to do the best of and right now I’m just not doing that.”
Kalish has looked rusty in the outfield since joining the Sox, likely the result of his missing most of last season with injuries.
“I don’t know. No excuses,” he said. “That’s something I have to bring to the park every day.”
Aceves has blown four saves in 23 attempts. Until he came on, the Red Sox pitching was terrific. Jon Lester allowed one run on four hits in 6.2 innings. He struck out nine, matching his season high. Vicente Padilla then struck out Yoenis Cespedes and Jonny Gomes swinging at fastballs with the bases loaded.
The Sox had seven hits, six of them singles, and were 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position. They are hitting .215 on the road trip and have scored either one or two runs in every game except one. They are 4 for 42 with runners in scoring position.
The Sox are now a shameful 1-4 against Oakland this season.
• RHP Clayton Mortensen was optioned to Pawtucket after the game. It’s not yet official, but RHP Justin Germano will join the team for Wednesday’s game.