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Closing Time: Red Sox melt down in late innings en route to doubleheader sweep at hands of Rays

05.01.14 at 10:55 pm ET
By

Even Koji is human.

The Red Sox failed to take advantage of opportunities to put away a game they led, 5-2, with faulty defense and vulnerability of the bullpen in the late innings collaborating to produce a 6-5 loss to the Rays. With the defeat, the Sox suffered a sweep in the day-night doubleheader to the Rays and fell back into a tie for last place in the American League East with Tampa Bay.

The Sox’ meltdown culminated with a solo homer by Yunel Escobar off of closer Koji Uehara. It was the second homer allowed by Uehara this year, but more significantly, it represented a sort of bottom point for the Red Sox‘ collective bullpen struggles of late. Sox relievers have now permitted 15 earned runs in their last 18 innings over seven games (a 7.50 ERA) after forging a 2.17 ERA through the first 22 games of the year.

As such, whereas the Sox bullpen had given the offense a chance to appear through the initial weeks of the season, as of late, it has opened the door for late-innings comebacks, and on Thursday, the Sox suffered their first loss in a game that they led after seven innings.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

– The Sox went 0-for-3 with a runner on third and fewer than two outs, stranding the runner each time.

– With left-handed masher Matt Joyce up and the tying run on second in the top of the eighth, Red Sox manager John Farrell stuck with Junichi Tazawa rather than going to left-hander Craig Breslow. Tazawa permitted a run-scoring, game-tying double, and lefties now own a .375 mark against him this year.

– While Grady Sizemore had one of his better games in recent weeks at the plate, going 1-for-1 with an RBI single and a walk, he ran into a pair of outs, first on an ill-advised attempt to break for second on a pitch that barely got away from Rays catcher Ryan Hanigan, then getting picked off at first when the Sox had first-and-third with two outs.

– The inexperience of the left side of the infield may have come into play when neither Will Middlebrooks nor Xander Bogaerts took early charge of an infield pop-up in the top of the sixth. Though Middlebrooks called for it late, he overran it and with Bogaerts standing right behind him, he couldn’t adjust and saw the ball tick off the end of his glove for a two-base error that led to an unearned run.

Dustin Pedroia was 0-for-5 and stranded six runners.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

– In the early paces of the 2014 season, John Farrell has noted the inability for the Red Sox to deliver a key hit in two-out situations, something that lent itself to the inability to sustain rallies. On Thursday night against the Rays, his team amassed three in a row in the bottom of the fifth inning, resulting in a five-run rally.

Rays starter Chris Archer loaded the bases on walks and then, with two outs, could not escape the jam. He drilled Shane Victorino with a pitch to force in a run, then saw David Ortiz line a two-run single through the right side, allowed Mike Napoli to deliver another run with a single to right and then could only observe from the dugout as Grady Sizemore greeted reliever Brad Boxberger with an RBI single to center.

Entering the contest, the Sox had been hitting just .212 in two-out situations with runners in scoring position. Thursday marked just the second time all year that the team amassed three such hits, and the first time that the team had done so in one inning.

– While Felix Doubront will receive credit for a quality start on a night when he allowed four runs (three earned) in six innings, he once again proved vulnerable to resounding contact, as four of the five hits he gave up went for extra-bases, including a pair of homers. Doubront has permitted an astounding 17 extra-base hits in 30 innings pitched, with opponents now hitting .278/.349/.492 against him.

Still, the Red Sox likely would trade the occasional hard contact that Doubront encountered for the willingness to throw strikes that he exhibited on Thursday. He matched a season-low with one walk and threw 68 of his 107 pitches (64 percent) for strikes, allowing him to get through six innings for the third time in his six starts this year. Given how disastrous his prior outing had been (2 2/3 innings, 7 runs, 3 earned, 6 hits, 2 walks), the Sox undoubtedly — and rightly — will characterize Doubront’s outing in a no-decision on Thursday as a step in the right direction.

Shane Victorino lined a pair of doubles off the Wall in left against Tampa Bay right-handers, Victorino’s third and fourth doubles in 17 plate appearances against righties this year, and he also took a bases-loaded hit by pitch from the Rays right-hander. He’s now 5-for-15 with four doubles and a .333/.412/.600 line in 17 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers — a particularly notable development given that his search for his timing at the plate was particularly pronounced against righties.

Will Middlebrooks walked three times, establishing a new career high, and further underscoring the notion that he’s seeing the ball very well despite the fact that he ditched the contacts that he was trying in spring training. However, with an opportunity to plate a go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth (with Xander Bogaerts on third and one out), Middlebrooks punched out on a 99 mph Jake McGee fastball, the second time in the game that the Sox squandered an opportunity where even an out could have meant a run.

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