A close call in the ninth turned a close win into a crushing 8-5 defeat for the Red Sox on Wednesday night.
Taking the mound for the Red Sox, Ryan Dempster again did not seem to have consistent control of his stuff. This would lead to stretches of excellence mixed with concerning moments where it seemed he was on the brink. Ultimately, though, Dempster was on often enough that he should have ended with six really nice innings to his name. Maybe even seven. There were just two things standing in his way.
The first was the defense. Having gone seven games without an error, suddenly the Sox committed two in short succession. In the first inning, it was Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino coming together for what should have been a fly ball out. Instead, it dropped to the ground as confusion took over, putting runners on second and third when there should have just been a man on first. The ground out that followed should not have scored a run, and certainly neither should either of the ensuing strikeouts that ended the inning.
The Red Sox would quickly answer that run in the second, with Jarrod Saltalamacchia doubling Daniel Nava home after a walk. A triple from Jacoby Ellsbury in the third would put the Red Sox up 2-1, and set up Shane Victorino for an easy sacrifice fly to make it 3-1.
It wouldn't take long, however, for the defense to rear its ugly head again. While the fourth inning started with a Nick Markakis homer, it was a bobble from Jackie Bradley Jr. in the outfield that allowed Adam Jones to score on a Matt Wieters single when he otherwise would have had to hold up at third. A strike out and ground out followed, ensuring that Jones would not have scored, and leaving Dempster with three runs, but only one earned.
The second thing that held Dempster back was the rain, which left the teams waiting for half an hour after the fifth. Koji Uehara covered the gap masterfully, however, getting through the sixth on just 12 pitches, and sending the game into the bottom of the inning. There, the Red Sox got offense from the same two men who had given them their first run of the game. Daniel Nava was up first, making it three straight games with a homer, taking Tommy Hunter up and over the Monster to regain the lead for Boston. Right behind him was Jarrod Saltalamacchia, finding the bullpen to make it back-to-back shots for the Red Sox.
Junichi Tazawa and Andrew Bailey would keep the run of good bullpen pitching going, but in the end, Joel Hanrahan could not. Chris Davis, the first batter he faced, launched a long fly ball to dead center for a leadoff homer, and after a strikeout and pop-up, Hanrahan surrendered a single to the 0-for-17 Ryan Flaherty, then walked Nolan Reimold.
In the end, everything was fine, though, because with a 2-2 count Hanrahan dropped an off-speed pitch through the bottom of the zone to end the game. Except the umpire didn't call it. Or the borderline-inside pitch that followed it. McLouth took first, and Hanrahan spiked one past Saltalamacchia to bring a run in. The next pitch was a fastball that Manny Machado got all of, and just like that, the game went from a 5-4 win to an 8-5 loss.
Blame the umpire, blame Hanrahan, blame the defense, blame whatever or whoever you like. People will say this was just one game, and it was. But Alfredo Aceves pitches tomorrow. The Red Sox are not likely to win that game. And if they don't, they'll be 5-4 and facing a series with the Rays with their winning record on the line. It was a great first week, but this early in the season, everything is terribly fragile. If things go south over the next few games, we'll know where and when the Red Sox missed their chance to protect against that.