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Closing Time: Yoenis Cespedes, Clay Buchholz help Red Sox snap losing streak in 10 innings

08.25.14 at 10:18 pm ET
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A Red Sox team desperate for a single win to restore a shred of dignity instead stood on the cusp of a dismal defeat. Koji Uehara had blown a three-run ninth-inning lead, and the Sox seemed like they were spiraling towards their ninth straight loss.

Instead, the team showed for a night a degree of resilience. Yoenis Cespedes shook off a head-high fastball from rocket-throwing Blue Jays reliever Aaron Sanchez in the top of the 10th inning, singling on a 1-2 curveball to drive in Brock Holt with the go-ahead run in a 4-3 Red Sox victory.

“Some pitchers think when they throw that ball high and tight you’re going to get a flustered and throw you off. That’s not necessarily the case with me,” Cespedes told reporters in Toronto. “I almost get almost upset, not necessarily with the pitcher but more with myself. I’m able to refocus myself and it worked out today.”

Though Cespedes has posted relatively modest offensive totals since joining the Sox from the A’s at the trade deadline, he’s already delivered his share of timely hits. He’s driven in a team-leading 19 runs in 22 games in August, hitting .310/.313/.655 with runners in scoring position.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

— And then, Clay Buchholz does *that*.

The Red Sox right-hander, one start removed from a six-run, six-inning abomination that underscored questions about his consistency as a pitcher, rebounded in dazzling fashion, tossing 8 1/3 innings in which he permitted just four hits, walked one, struck out four and recorded 15 outs on the ground in an effort notable for both its tremendous efficiency (103 pitches) and the absence of solid contact against him (all of the hits he allowed were singles, with three having been of the groundball variety).

He left the game with a 3-0 lead after giving up a pair of seeing-eye singles and a walk. While he ended up being charged with all three of the runs, through eight innings, Buchholz was nothing but dominant.

The reminders of what Buchholz can do at the peak of his abilities have been few this year, but they have been just visible enough to offer a glimpse of a pitcher whose importance to the organization is far-reaching. He is the one pitcher on the current Sox staff who has shown an ability to deliver elite innings for months at a time. While Buchholz has been unable to do so this year — and indeed, hasn’t come close to such a stature — he’s offered just enough glimpses of the pitcher with a seemingly endless array of options on the mound to give the Sox hope that the 2014 season represents an aberration from which he has a chance to recover next year, a potential strength of the team rather than a desperate weakness.

“All in all I’ll take a lot of out of tonight,” Buchholz told reporters, shrugging off his no-decision. “Fastball command was a little bit better. I got into some situations today where I made good pitches with changeup, curveball and cutter. Like I said, whenever you can throw three or four pitches for strikes, it makes it a little tougher for a hitter to sit on any one pitch. The defense played about as good as I’ve ever seen a defense play. That helped.”

— Feats of Mookie: Streaking. Mookie Betts served notice of his potential to be an offensive game-charger, and in the process, continued what has been an intriguing glimpse in his first real run as an everyday big leaguer. Betts broke a scoreless tie by launching a solo homer to left field in the fifth, part of a 1-for-2 day in which he also worked a walk and stole a base. Since he joined the Sox and was given a chance to play center field every day with the demotion of Jackie Bradley Jr. last Monday, Betts has reached base in all eight of his games, hitting .280/.438/.480 with seven walks, four strikeouts and three steals in as many attempts.

Dustin Pedroia ended an 18-game homerless drought, following Betts’ blast with a two-run shot of hisown in the fifth inning. The homer was Pedroia’s sixth of the year. However, that was Pedroia’s lone hit in a 1-for-5 game that included a pair of punchouts.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

Koji Uehara, entrusted with a three-run lead, bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth, quickly gave the game away. He permitted a run-scoring fielder’s choice before Edwin Encarnacion smoked a two-run double off the wall in left to tie the game.

Uehara wasn’t charged with a run, but he remains amidst the worst stretch of his big league career. In his last four appearances, he’s now allowed 10 hits and five extra-base hits (four doubles and a homer) in 3 1/3 innings, only amplifying the questions about whether he has reached a point where fatigue has rendered the previously untouchable reliever vulnerable.

Manager John Farrell did concede to reporters that “there’s no denying the number of appearances he had over a very extended year last year and the number of appearances this year,” even as he noted that Uehara shows no physical restrictions and said that the idea of shutting him down hasn’t yet been explored.

“It’s nothing about fatigue,” Uehara told reporters through an interpreter. “It’s about my split. I’m not controlling it. … All I can say is that I’m not finishing the pitches as I want to.”

Will Middlebrooks went 0-for-4 with three punchouts. He’s struck out in 27.3 percent of plate appearances this year, which would represent a career-worst mark. However, Middlebrooks did smoke a ball to the gap in left-center on which Melky Cabrera made a nice play, and he also made a spectacular diving play on a grounder to his left in the ninth inning, throwing out Munenori Kawasaki from one knee.

Allen Craig, playing his first game at first base for the Red Sox, went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts.

Brock Holt collided with Pedroia in pursuit of a grounder up the middle in the ninth inning, absorbing a forearm to the left side of the head that required a brief visit from a Red Sox trainer. But Holt stayed in the game and kicked off the game-winning rally, claiming an infield single, stealing both second and third and then scoring on the Cespedes single.

“I’m a lot stronger than he is. Don’t let that 165 pounds fool you,” Pedroia told reporters after Holt got the worst of the exchange.

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