Sox bats silent in loss to Jays
AL East lead cut to 1 1/2 games after sweep by Toronto
TORONTO -- The Red Sox lost their way North of the Border, getting swept right off the carpet at Rogers Centre. The capper of this disappointing three-game series against the Blue Jays was a 6-1 defeat Wednesday night that saw the offense go silent yet again.
Playing without Manny Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis -- not to mention Coco Crisp in the final two games -- the Sox produced all of five runs in the series. So as they got set to clear customs again and head back on the road to face the Rays in a three-game series, the Red Sox hoped the change of scenery might change their momentum.
After winning their 90th game on Saturday, the Red Sox have proceeded to lose four in a row. Meanwhile, the lead in the American League East is down to a minuscule 1 1/2 games over the torrid Yankees. Boston hasn't had such a slim margin for error in the standings since April 24.
"I think there's a level of pride in here that I think we still want a chance to win that division," said Red Sox catcher and captain Jason Varitek. "We want to be able to do that along with ultimately being in the postseason. But mainly we want to play good baseball."
The Red Sox have nine games left to do that. Thanks to the demise of the Tigers, Boston is still in excellent shape to qualify for postseason. The magic number for clinching a ticket to October is just three, thanks to the fact the Red Sox are seven games up on the Tigers, who trail the Yankees by 5 1/2 games in the Wild Card standings.
How do the Red Sox remedy things?
"Win," said veteran setup man Mike Timlin. "That's the bottom line. It doesn't matter how. It doesn't matter who. We need to win. We need to prove what kind of team we are by winning."
This contest was tense throughout, but Boston's hope at coming back in the ninth was thwarted when Jonathan Papelbon inherited a bases loaded situation from Timlin in the bottom of the eighth and surrendered a game-breaking grand slam to Russ Adams. It was also Adams who came up with the game-winning hit against Eric Gagne on Tuesday night.
"I've got to be able to bail my team out of that situation and keep it right there and know what the job is," said Papelbon. "I just didn't go out there and do the job."
But Timlin -- who opened the eighth by hitting Alex Rios and walking Frank Thomas -- refused to let Papelbon take the blame for the defeat.
"We had a shot. I blew it," said Timlin. "I didn't throw the ball well at all."
Not even Clay Buchholz -- the righty who electrified Fenway Park with a no-hitter on Sept. 1 -- could get Boston back on track. Buchholz, making his first appearance since Sept. 6 and first start since the no-no, was solid (4 2/3 innings, five hits, one earned run, two walks, five K's) in his abbreviated outing.
In fact, Buchholz and Blue Jays starter Jesse Litsch had a double no-hitter going through the first three innings. The Jays ended Buchholz's bid for a second no-no in as many starts when Thomas clubbed a two-out single to left with two outs in the fourth.
Litsch kept his going through four, but J.D. Drew ended it abruptly by smashing a solo homer to right to lead off the fifth. It was home run No. 9 on the season for Drew, and just his third since June 20.
Things had been going so well for Buchholz over the first four innings, but things changed in the fifth. Gregg Zaun led off with a double to right. Adam Lind singled up the middle, putting runners at the corners with nobody out.
Then came a grounder to the right side that went past first baseman Eric Hinske, but fielded by second baseman Dustin Pedroia. However, Buchholz missed the bag after taking the throw from Pedroia.
"I knew where I was at," Buchholz said. "I guess he beat me. I don't know."
At any rate, the infield hit tied the game at 1. Next up was Ray Olmedo, and he dropped down a bunt that Buchholz fielded and then made a rushed, push throw to third that went wildly down the line, allowing another run to score.
"Just a mental lapse I guess," said Buchholz. "Whenever I got to the ball, I didn't think we'd be able to have a play at first. I tried to go to third. I think I would have had him if I wouldn't have double clutched. It came out of my glove and I didn't have the ball and had to go back in. I tried to do it too fast I guess."
Bobby Kielty threw the ball back in from left field to third baseman Mike Lowell, and Adams lifted his foot off the bag just long enough to get tagged out.
Buchholz, who threw just 48 pitches in the first four innings, threw 20 in the fifth. He was removed after striking out Matt Stairs for the second out. Considering the layoff Buchholz had between innings, it wasn't surprising that Francona took him out just shy of 70 pitches.
"That was the absolute max," said Francona. "He was throwing so well, we let him go out for the fifth. It's such a structured program [for Buchholz] that that was it."
Perhaps the best chance the Red Sox had to come back was in the seventh, when Varitek walked, Eric Hinske singled and Kielty was hit by a pitch to load them up with two outs, Boston still down just a run. Julio Lugo then got jammed and tapped one to short. Thinking that there was going to be an easy force at second, Lugo didn't get a good break out of the box. Olmedo bobbled the ball, but he still had time to throw Lugo out at first.
"I didn't see the play to tell you the truth," Lugo said. "When I swung, I got jammed. I thought he was going to get the out at second. I don't know what happened."
It seemed to be a recurring theme for the Red Sox during this frustrating visit to Toronto.
"You don't come here and expect to lose three games in a row," Lugo said. "Things unfortunately are not going the right way right now. We hit some balls right at somebody. We just have to find a way to win and get back on track. Right now, it doesn't matter who is hitting good or pitching good. What matters is winning."
Following Thursday's off-day, the Red Sox hope to resume the process of doing that over the weekend at Tropicana Field against the Devil Rays.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.