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Closing Time: Red Sox bats falter in 10-inning loss to Athletics

05.04.14 at 5:23 pm ET
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For a couple of days, the Red Sox offense looked like it was starting to find a groove after some early season struggles. In the last week, the team averaged 4.5 runs per game against Blue Jays, Rays and Athletics pitching. The team began to come up with hits with runners in scoring position and knocking balls out of the park, hitting four home runs, 15 doubles and generating a .361 on-base percentage.

But in Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the A’s, Sonny Gray and the Oakland bullpen held up a big red stop sign for the recently bustling Red Sox offense and brought the roll to a grinding stop.

Throughout his six-inning outing, Gray continued his strong start to the 2014 campaign, allowing two runs on six hits and three walks while punching out four. Gray used his full arsenal to prevent hitters from making solid contact for most of the afternoon. Though the Sox clawed their way back to tie the game, 2-2, in the seventh, they saw a recurrence of their struggles to score when presented with golden opportunities, most notably when they failed to capitalize with runners on second and third and no outs after A.J. Pierzynski‘s game-tying homer to open the seventh. That was the second failure with a runner on third and fewer than two outs, as Jackie Bradley Jr. grounded into a 1-2-3 double play to end the fifth.

With the Sox unable to break through in the tie game, it was Oakland who took advantage. Reliever Chris Capuano allowed a 10th-inning double to Jed Lowrie, then issued back-to-back walks to load the bases. While right-hander Burke Badenhop got the groundball he wanted from Yoenis Cespedes, it was hit too softly for Will Middlebrooks to cut down Cespedes at first, with the infield single resulting in the game-winning run.

Boston missed a chance for its first three-game winning streak of the year, and also fell short in an effort to return to .500.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

– The Sox were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

Jackie Bradley Jr., one of the Sox’ best hitters with runners on base this year, had a day to forget. He grounded into a pair of double plays — the second one a one-out, bases loaded killer when he tapped into a 1-2-3 twin-killing to end the bottom of the fifth inning, which had represented the Sox’ first meaningful rally against Gray. Then, with runners on second and third and one out in the seventh, Bradley bunted directly to left-hander Fernando Abad, with Bogaerts unable to score from third on the poorly placed offering and Bradley thrown out at first. Coming into play on Sunday, Bradley was hitting .393 with five doubles and 12 RBI in 31 plate appearances with a .452 on-base percentage with runners in scoring position. The call for a bunt, considering the very small margin of error for Bradley on a safety squeeze with the infield, was puzzling at the least.

A.J. Pierzynski allowed Josh Donaldson to steal his first base of the season easily in the first inning. The throw down to second base short-hopped Xander Bogaerts and bounced into centerfield. Following the steal of second base, Brandon Moss singled to drive in Donaldson. Still, though his defense has been subject to considerable scrutiny, Pierzynski came into Sunday’s game tied for fourth in the majors in caught stealing percentage (.357) with the YankeesBrian McCann and the Nationals’ Jose Lobaton.

Xander Bogaerts struck out in the fifth inning with Mike Carp on second base and Pierzynski on first. Bogaerts said at the end of April that he wanted to improve his approach and numbers with runners in scoring position. Bogaerts came into play Sunday hitting .138 with four RBI, two doubles and a .219 on-base percentage with runners in scoring position.

Koji Uehara walked hitters in back-to-back outings for the first time since April 20, 2011 when he was with the Orioles.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

– A.J. Pierzynski had a big day, launching his first career home run at Fenway — a rocket over the Red Sox bullpen in right field to open the seventh inning against A’s starter Sonny Gray, in his 172nd career plate appearance in his new home park. That was part of a 2-for-3 day that continued the 37-year-old’s recently strong run at the plate. Coming into Sunday’s game, since April 22, Pierzynski had hit .355 with a .382 on-base percentage, .516 slugging percentage, one home run, eight RBI and two doubles.

The catcher also made an extremely astute play on a play at the plate where he kept his foot around the plate, preventing Josh Donaldson from sliding cleanly into home while he awaited the relay throw. After a review as to whether Pierzynski illegally blocked the plate under the newly revised home plate collision rules, the umpires determined that the catcher did not violate any rules, ultimately ruling Donaldson out at the plate.

The new home plate collision rule was adopted in late-February (Rule 7.13) and states, “Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the Umpire, the catcher, without possession of the ball, blocks the pathway of the runner, the Umpire shall call or signal the runner safe. However, Pierzynski waited until he had the ball to block the plate with his foot, thus making his tag of Donaldson legal.

Grady Sizemore made a couple of nice plays in left field, playing a fly ball off the Green Monster cleanly to hold A’s catcher Derek Norris to a single and taking part in a 7-6-2 play at the plate on a ball hit down the left field line. Sizemore, who only played centerfield in his career heading into the season, has looked smoother in left field and appears to starting to make an adjustment to playing a corner outfield spot.

Sizemore also looked sharp at the plate, driving in the Red Sox’s first run on a fifth-inning double, his second hit of the day. The 31-year-old has begun to look better at the plate and has gotten some good swings on the ball since the beginning of May after hitting .140 with one double, one triple and one home run with a .200 on-base percentage from April 9 through the end of the month.

John Lackey turned in another strong outing, providing six solid innings, allowing two runs, five hits while walking three and striking out four, lowering his season ERA to 3.72.

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