OAKLAND -- You allow the Athletics to take a lead into the ninth inning at your own peril. Awaiting you is the Aussie fastballer, Grant Balfour, the only closer in the major leagues yet to blow a save this season.
Odds are that streak will come to an end sometime, although it is now 25 straight this season, 43 going back to 2013 for Balfour, who on Saturday night closed out the Boston Red Sox, 3-0, before a sellout (you read that right) crowd of 36,067 in O.co Coliseum.
The loss, one in which the Sox were shut out for the sixth time this season, ended Boston’s four-game winning streak and enabled the Tampa Bay Rays to draw within 3 ½ games of the Sox in the AL East, with one more game remaining before Sunday’s All-Star break. To refer to the break as the season’s halfway point is a real misnomer; the Sox (58-38) have already played 96 games, 15 over the break-even point, and will have just 65 games left when play resumes Friday night in the Fens against the Yankees.
The Sox had eight hits off Athletics starter A.J. Griffin, but advanced only one runner to third base. That was David Ortiz, who reached first base on an error by Oakland second baseman Grant Green with one out in the fourth and sped to third on Daniel Nava’s two-out single. Jarrod Saltalamacchia flied deep to the track in left field to end the threat, one of five 400-foot outs (or thereabouts) that the Sox catcher has made in the first two games here.
Red Sox starter Jon Lester, trying to bounce back from a five-run, five-inning shelling in Seattle in his last start, held the Athletics scoreless until Derek Norris hit an 0-and-2 fastball into the seats for a 1-0 lead in the fifth. That home run continued a puzzling habit; the league average for pitchers on an 0-and-2 count, the ultimate pitchers’ advantage, is .156. For Lester, it’s .312 (10 for 32). He has allowed 15 home runs this season. Three have come on 0 and 2 pitches, the most he has allowed on any count.
A walk and singles by Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes made it 2-0 in the sixth. Lester was lifted with one out in the seventh after a walk and single; Coco Crisp hit reliever Junichi Tazawa’s first pitch into right field for an RBI single that made it 3-0.
The Sox, who scored all four of their runs Friday night on two-out base hits by Brock Holt and Dustin Pedroia, greeted Balfour with Mike Napoli’s single to open the ninth. But Daniel Nava bounced into a force play, Saltalamacchia went down on strikes, and Jose Iglesias fouled out to first baseman Brandon Moss to end it.
Rookie Brandon Workman will make his first big-league start Sunday against Bartolo Colon, Oakland’s only All-Star representative. Colon is 40; Workman is a month short of his 25th birthday. Colon signed in 1993, when Workman was 4. The Red Sox have not won a season series here since 2007.