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Closing Time: Grady Sizemore, Red Sox walk off in 12 innings

05.06.14 at 11:18 pm ET
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Quite clearly, the Red Sox have yet to hit their stride, have yet to reach a time when their best level of play — particularly their best offense — has arrived. Yet while they aren’t sprinting, it’s also noteworthy that they haven’t fallen on their faces, either, instead staying in a tightly bunched pack.

The team continued its show of early-season survival skills on Tuesday, claiming its second walkoff victory with a 4-3, 12-inning win over the Reds at Fenway. It was a game that the Sox seemed on the brink of throwing away, squandering numerous opportunities to break the game open with runners in scoring position (1-for-12 through 12 innings) as they permitted a 3-1 lead to become a 3-3 tie thanks to offensive struggles and a poor performance by reliever Junichi Tazawa.

Yet just when it appeared that the team would suffer a dispiriting loss — with Koji Uehara hanging by a thread in the ninth inning — the Sox closer held on (barely) for dear life, and the non-Tazawa bullpen contingent performed brilliantly, with 1 2/3 scoreless frames from Burke Badenhop, two scoreless innings from Andrew Miller and a scoreless inning of work from both Uehara and Craig Breslow.

The work of the bullpen finally permitted the Sox to capitalize, pushing across a run on with Grady Sizemore‘s walk off single off the base of the scoreboard in the bottom of the 12th, which plated David Ortiz from second base. It was Sizemore’s fourth career walk off hit, his first since Aug. 11, 2006.

The Sox are now 16-17, one game out of first place (pending the results of the Orioles and Yankees games) in the AL East. Their best baseball, they hope, is ahead of them, but for now, it is enough to survive.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

— Left-hander Andrew Miller set a career-high by recording his 10th straight appearance without a walk, striking out four in two overpowering innings. He poured 17 of his 24 pitches into the strike zone, including eight of nine in his second inning of work. He’s been attacking the strike zone as never before in his career, and during this run (which began on April 16), 72 percent of his pitches have been for strikes. During the 10 2/3 inning stretch, he has 16 punchouts without a free pass.

Dustin Pedroia remained hot, going 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles and a walk. Since he received the cortisone injection in his wrist, he’s now hitting .321/.421/.481 in 19 games.

It’s also worth noting that most of this success has come at the top of the order, and that Pedroia has been a strong on-base presence in the first Red Sox plate appearance of the game — though 2-for-9 when leading off the first inning, he has five walks in such situations, good for a .500 OBP.

— The Red Sox got off to a fast start in the first inning when Mike Napoli knocked in his 18th run of the season when a check swing dribbler got past the pitcher and allowed Dustin Pedroia to score from third base. The run represented the team’s 10th of the season in the first inning. Coming into Tuesday’s matchup against the Reds, the first inning had been the most unproductive inning for the Red Sox.

— In the second third inning, the Red Sox took advantage of a bases loaded situation and knocked in two runs. Napoli walked on 3-2 knuckle curve followed by a Grady Sizemore RBI single through the right side of the infield, driving in Pedroia. Coming into Tuesday’s contest, the Red Sox were tied for the eight worst batting average with runners in scoring position at .222.

— Sizemore looks like he is starting to find a groove again. In his last seven games dating back to April 26, Sizemore is hitting .320 with a .433 OBP and .440 slugging mark.

Felix Doubront offered a characteristic cliffhanger of a performance, but instead of plummeting to an early demise on Tuesday night, he managed to maintain his precarious hold on the edge of a precipice and claw his way back up to safety.

It looked as if he might meet an early demise in the second inning of Tuesday’s start against the Reds, when Todd Frazier led off the inning with a walk, Ryan Ludwick doubled deep to center field and Skip Schumaker knocked in Frazier with a bloop single. Visions of another early departure loomed.

But despite the rough start to the inning, Doubront refused to fall. He pulled his outing together, got three quick outs and retired the bottom three hitters in the Reds’ lineup, ultimately staying around for 5 1/3 innings in which he permitted a season-low one run on five hits with three walks and three strikeouts.

Despite the heart attack nature of most Doubront outings this year, the southpaw has only allowed more than three earned runs only once this season (April 8 to the Texas Rangers). The main issue Doubront has run into is his inability to go deep into his outings. Doubront has not yet pitched seven complete innings this season, although he has pitched 6.2 innings on two occasions.

Five years into Doubront’s career, this may be what the lefty is, a bottom-of-the-rotation starter with the ability to go five or six innings while typically dancing around major harm. That sort of pitcher can still give his team a chance to win, as Doubront did in entrusting a lead to his bullpen on Tuesday night.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

— Right-hander Junichi Tazawa added to his recent struggles by allowing two runs on two hits and a walk (just the second he’d allowed this year) in the eighth inning. After 11 scoreless appearances to start the year, Tazawa has now allowed five runs on eight hits (and a walk) in his last four innings of work.

Xander Bogaerts continued his struggles with runners in scoring position in the third inning and fifth inning. With the bases loaded and one out, Bogaerts popped out to Brandon Phillips. Bogaerts then struck out with men on first and second and one out in the fifth inning. He’s now hitting .125/.200/.188 with runners in scoring position this year.

Ultimately, those unsuccessful trips to the plate served as part of what could be characterized as the worst offensive game of Bogaerts’ career. For the first time as a big leaguer, he failed to reach base in a game where he had five or more plate appearances, going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts (the whiffs matching another inglorious career standard). He’s now hitting .268 with a .379 OBP and .357 slugging mark.

—  Since returning from the disabled list on April 25, Will Middlebrooks has not hit the cover off of the ball. He went 0-for-5 and failed to leave the infield on Tuesday, punching out twice and grounding out three times. He’s 4-for-27 (.148) in his last eight games, though it is worth noting that he had amassed five walks in that time.

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