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Closing Time: Slump continues as Red Sox fall to Blue Jays, 3-2

05.11.13 at 5:10 pm ET
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The April feast has yielded to May famine, with the Red Sox currently ensnared in a desperate inability to produce runs even when opportunities stare them in the face. The Sox managed just two runs, the seventh time in 11 games that they’ve plated three or fewer, and with little margin for error, the team met its undoing when Adam Lind slammed a solo homer against closer Junichi Tazawa in the top of the ninth inning that gave the Blue Jays a 3-2 victory.

The Sox have now lost seven of nine, with the team’s struggles with runners in scoring position occupying a prime share of the blame. Against Toronto on Saturday, the Sox (who in one stretch saw Jays starter Mark Buehrle retire 13 straight) were 0-for-11 with two walks. The inability to capitalize on opportunities remains a recurring them in the team’s current skid.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

– After the Sox rallied for a pair of runs to tie the game, 2-2, in the bottom of the eighth, newly (and presumably temporarily) anointed closer Junichi Tazawa immediately gave the game back to Toronto. Tazawa gave up a long solo homer to Adam Lind to immediately give the lead back to Toronto. Thus continued Tazawa’s struggles: In his last nine games, he’s allowed five runs on nine hits in 6 2/3 innings, yielding a pair of homers. He’s permitted baserunners in eight of his nine outings. His struggles, combined with the absence of Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, have created instability at the back end of the Red Sox bullpen.

– The team continued its dreadful performance with runners in scoring position, going 0-for-11 (with two walks, one intentional) in such opportunities. During the team’s current 2-7 stretch, the Sox are hitting .179/.280/.250 with runners on second or third.

– The Red Sox considered having Mike Napoli sit on Saturday and playing the torrid Daniel Nava at first base against Buehrle. Instead, the team kept the struggling Napoli in the lineup — hoping that he might get his swing back on track against a left-hander — while sitting Nava.

The decision did not pay dividends. Napoli went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts (and a walk). The first baseman remained enmeshed in a skid that coincides exactly with the Sox’ offense hitting a wall. In his last nine games, he’s driven in just one run while hitting .162/.244/.216 with two doubles and no homers in 41 plate appearances.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Clay Buchholz was once again outstanding. The right-hander was efficient while working deep into the game (8 innings in 101 pitches against an almost absurdly aggressive Blue Jays team), giving up two runs on just six hits (all singles) and three walks while striking out five. He got an eye-popping 16 outs via groundballs. He’s now worked at least seven innings in seven of his eight starts, recorded at least one out in the eighth in four of those and is tied with Felix Hernandez for the major league lead in innings pitched with 58 2/3.

Dustin Pedroia continued his assault on opposing pitchers during the current homestand. The second baseman grounded a single to left in his first at-bat then lined another in the third that was hit with such force that Pedroia was thrown out when left fielder Melky Cabrera fielded the ricochet off the Wall cleanly and delivered a strike to second.

Pedroia has multiple hits in each of his last four games. Over his last seven games, he’s been on a tear, going 13-for-27 and hitting .481/.548/.556.

– With the Sox trailing, 2-0, in the bottom of the eighth, Jacoby Ellsbury injected life into his club by rocketing an RBI triple off the base of the wall in straightaway center field. It was Ellsbury’s first RBI since May 2 (9 games), and his second extra-base hit in his last 15 games. Ellsbury then sprinted home with the tying run when Jays shortstop Masinori Kawasaki booted a Pedroia grounder.

Will Middlebrooks lined a double to right field and later added a hustling double on a soft liner to left (for which Melky Cabrera dove), his fourth and fifth two-baggers in three games since returning from his rib injury. He also made a pair of outstanding defensive plays with his bare hand on balls that required him to charge in and fire to first.

“I think given the production at the plate, he’s been able to separate that and play very well defensively, with the exception of a couple of games. I think that’s the sign of a mature young player,” said manager John Farrell prior to Saturday’s game. “And in the meantime he’s spent countless hours with [infield and thrid base coach Brian Butterfield], getting his footwork more consistent and buying some time to let that arm action work consistently for him.”

David Ortiz, after flying out to right in the first inning, lined a single to left-center in his second plate appearance to snap an 0-for-17 stretch.

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