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Closing Time: Andrew Miller, Red Sox again suffer walkoff loss to Twins

05.15.14 at 4:33 pm ET
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Andrew Miller endured his second loss in three games in Minnesota. (AP)

Andrew Miller endured his second loss in three games in Minnesota. (AP)

For the second time in three games against the Twins, the Red Sox rallied to wipe out a late-inning deficit only to endure the ignominy of a walkoff defeat. Just as was the case on Tuesday night, it was left-hander Andrew Miller who was on the hill to endure the sudden and dispiriting end of the contest.

The Red Sox erased a 3-1 deficit in the ninth inning to tie the contest, 3-3. But after he sailed through a perfect ninth inning in the bottom of that frame in just six pitches, Miller returned to the hill for the 10th. A one-out double by Kurt Suzuki set the stage for Aaron Hicks‘ walkoff single to left with two outs to drive in the winning run, as the Twins claimed a 4-3 victory in 10 innings.

Prior to the series against the Twins, Miller had given up more than one hit in just one of 18 outings. He’s now done so in each of his last two appearances.

The Sox dropped back to .500 with the loss to the Twins, snapping a stretch of three straight series wins.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

– It’s not that it was a bad outing for Clay Buchholz. Though he endured a no-decision, the 29-year-old could have enjoyed a better fate if backed by a more productive offensive effort.

Buchholz allowed three runs in six innings of work, his third quality start in his last four outings and his fifth in eight starts this year. Though he yielded 10 hits (which included a homer and double) for the second straight start, he spread them out and made key pitches in a number of situations, holding the Twins 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and stranding nine baserunners.

Nonetheless, with roughly a quarter of a season concluded, Buchholz has borne little resemblance to the dominant pitcher of a year ago. After back-to-back 10-hit games, opponents are hitting .337 against him. He’s given up three or more runs in seven of his eight starts — something he did in just three of 16 starts in 2013, a season in which opponents hit .199 against the right-hander. His ERA stands at 6.17. While he matched a season-high with six strikeouts on Thursday, he elicited just four swings and misses on the day, in a game where his fastball mostly sat around 90-91 mph.

Between Buchholz’s diminished velocity this year and the fact that he continues to struggle in the early innings of his starts — he has an 8.49 ERA in the first three innings after getting touched for all three of the runs he yielded in the second inning, two courtesy of a Chris Parmalee home run — questions will persist about his overall arm strength and, given that he did experience a shoulder injury last year, his health, much as was the case with Josh Beckett in early 2012. There are instances, flashes when Buchholz looks like himself on the mound, but to this point in the year, he’s looked more like a pitcher who is trying to chase after something that he was, rather than what he is.

The Sox’ sideways journey through this stage of the year is in no small part a reflection of the fact that a pitcher whose presence on the mound early last year was a virtual guarantee of a win has instead become anything but, with the Sox now 3-5 in the games started by the right-hander.

Mike Napoli went 0-for-5, snapping his career-long streak of consecutive games reaching base at 33. While he’s remained consistent in his ability to get on base, it’s worth noting that Napoli has just a .143 average (6-for-41 with three doubles) in May.

– At a time when the Red Sox were trailing by two runs in the top of the ninth inning, manager John Farrell elected to have Jonathan Herrera pinch-run for David Ortiz after the slugger’s leadoff single. That, in turn, left the Sox without Ortiz when his turn to hit came in the 10th inning. The decision to have Herrera — who did not represent the tying run — was somewhat puzzling under the circumstances.

– For the fourth time this year, the Red Sox did not take a walk. They are now 0-4 in such games while averaging 1.8 runs in those contests.

– Though David Ross did collect a hit, he also punched out twice in four trips to the plate — most notably, fanning with one out in the ninth with the bases loaded at a time when the Red Sox were trailing, 3-1. He’s struck out in 17 of 45 plate appearances this year, a career-worst 37.8 percent rate.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Will Middlebrooks delivered a momentous hit, a game-tying, two-run single to right with two outs in the top of the ninth inning against Twins closer Glen Perkins. Though Middlebrooks has looked overmatched against righties — with an 0-for-3 day with two strikeouts against Twins right-handers, he’s now hitting .149/.286/.298 against righties — he’s hitting .318/.375/.409 against lefties. That split could create the impetus for some interesting decisions for the Red Sox in the not-too-distant future regarding whether or not to pinch-hit for or sit Middlebrooks against some right-handed starters, but his success against lefties proved game-changing on Thursday.

Mike Carp, making just his second start in May, delivered offense off the bench, collecting a pair of singles — one of the infield variety to drive in the Sox’ first run, the other to load the bases in the ninth to set up Middlebrooks’ game-tying single. He’s reached base at least once in eight of his nine starts this year, and reached twice in five of those nine starts.

David Ortiz collected a single to left in the ninth to extend his hitting streak to eight games.

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