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Closing Time: Red Sox bullpen suffers Motown meltdown in walkoff loss

04.08.12 at 6:05 pm ET

When Andrew Bailey went down on the doorstep of the season, the Red Sox felt that they had the bullpen options to withstand his absence. Between Alfredo Aceves and Mark Melancon, the team felt that it had at least two pitchers who could manage game-ending responsibilities.

Yet for the second time in three games this season, that pair failed to handle their late-innings responsibilities. This time, in his first save opportunity, Aceves spit the bit. Entrusted with a 10-7 lead in the bottom of the ninth, he gave up two singles and a three-run homer to Miguel Cabrera before being pulled in favor of left-hander Franklin Morales with the game tied, 10-10.

After the Sox rallied for two runs in the top of the 11th, Melancon proved unable to preserve that lead, allowing three runs, including a two-run, two-out, walkoff homer by Alex Avila, to send the Sox to a devastating 13-12 loss that completed a three-game sweep at the hands of the Tigers.

The Sox have seen the back end of their bullpen absorb two losses in the season’€™s first three games. For now, it would appear that the effort to find an effective late-innings formula remains incomplete, with an increasingly urgent sense of the need to solve it.

For the second straight year, the Red Sox were swept in their season-opening series. In a division and league that are unforgiving of lapses, the Sox now travel to Toronto engulfed in a sense of early-season necessity.


— Aceves has now appeared in two games, with bad results in both. The right-hander allowed the Tigers a walkoff single in the first contest of the season, and on Sunday, entrusted with a three-run lead in the ninth inning and his first save opportunity of the year, Aceves required just three batters to blow the lead. He permitted a pair of singles and then a three-run homer to Miguel Cabrera.

A year ago, the Sox lost just one game all year in which they had a lead entering the ninth inning, that coming in the last game of the season. On Sunday, the team matched that total in the first game of the year in which they possessed a ninth-inning lead.

— Melancon did no better, giving up singles to Cabrera and Prince Fielder before Avila’s walkoff. He has faced eight batters and allowed five hits, suffering two losses already.

— Buchholz, making his first start since last June 16, allowed eight hits and seven runs in four innings of work. The seven-run yield ended a 42-game streak for Buchholz of starts in which he allowed five or fewer earned runs, the longest streak by a Sox starter since Roger Clemens in 1985-86.

On the one hand, the line was slightly deceiving, since Buchholz gave up a number of groundball singles (of the eight hits he allowed, six were singles and two were doubles), and unlike Saturday against Josh Beckett, the Tigers were not swinging from their heels against him.

On the other hand, Buchholz failed to put away Tigers hitters. Both doubles he gave up were on 0-2 counts, and the right-hander had just two strikeouts. That said, Buchholz had a good curveball, a pitch that he threw 13 times for eight strikes, including four of the swing-and-miss variety.


— After the Red Sox managed just 12 hits and two runs in the first two games of the season, manager Bobby Valentine altered the lineup completely, with Nick Punto batting leadoff and playing third in place of Kevin Youkilis, Darnell McDonald inserted in left in place of Cody Ross and Kelly Shoppach starting in place of Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Whether a result of the reshuffled lineup or merely a coincidence, the Sox exploded for 12 runs on 18 hits. Eight of the nine members of the lineup reached base at least twice.

The team showed tremendous character as well, erasing a 4-0 first-inning deficit to take an eventual 10-7 lead and then, after Aceves blew the save in the ninth, rallying for two more runs in the 11th to position the team for a victory.

— Punto went 3-for-6 and drove in three runs, most notably delivering the go-ahead run with a one-out single in the top of the 11th inning.

— While the offense was the headliner, Vicente Padilla did a credible imitation of the 2011 version of Alfredo Aceves. With Buchholz knocked out after just four frames, Padilla came in for the fifth and tossed four shutout frames, allowing two singles while striking out four. He filled up the strike zone, tossing 36 of his 51 pitches (70.6 percent) for strikes, and had the Sox positioned for a win until the 2012 version of Aceves blew the save in the ninth inning.

Adrian Gonzalez delivered the first Red Sox home run of the season, pounding a two-run blast to right-center in the sixth against left-hander Daniel Schlereth. Gonzalez went 2-for-6 and was hit by a pitch; he is now 5-for-13 (.385) this season. David Ortiz, batting behind Gonzalez, went 3-for-6 and is 5-for-12 (.417) this year.

Mike Aviles, who was 0-for-6 with three strikeouts in his first two games of the year, went 3-for-5 with three RBI, delivering a two-run double in the second to start the Sox’ comeback from a 4-0 deficit, adding a run-scoring single in the second and then, finally, collecting a key single in the Sox’ 11th-inning rally. He was not alone in making his first offensive impact of the season. Jacoby Ellsbury, who was 0-for-7 in the first two contests, was 2-for-6 with a double and walk. Cody Ross, 0-for-8 in his first two games, collected his first Red Sox hit as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning and also walked in the 11th inning.

— Catcher Kelly Shoppach was hit by a pair of pitches, becoming the first Red Sox hitter since Daniel Nava on Oct. 2, 2010, to get plunked multiple times in the same contest. Though Shoppach was 0-for-3, he has now reached base three times in five plate appearances with the Red Sox.

Franklin Morales entered the game after Aceves blew the save in the ninth and helped the Sox to restore order. The left-hander pitched two shutout innings, allowing just one hit and striking out three. The left-hander has shown the ability to attack both left- and right-handed hitters with his fastball and curveball, and if he can continue to attack the strike zone as he has since coming to the Red Sox, he could grow into a position of prominence in the Sox bullpen.

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