Lots to digest, tough to swallow

May, 4, 2014
5/04/14
9:25
PM ET
BOSTON -- There was plenty to digest after the Boston Red Sox dropped the series finale to the Oakland Athletics 3-2 on Sunday. Here is a sampling:

1. Take one: This game was a dream for those who like to analyze in-game decisions and the nuances of managing a baseball team at the highest level. In the end, most of the analysis revolved around the inability for Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. to get down a bunt on two separate occasions.

Bradley was at the plate in a 2-2 game in the seventh. There were runners at second and third and one out. Manager John Farrell called for a safety squeeze, hoping to get Xander Bogaerts in from third with the go-ahead run, but Bradley’s bunt resulted in an easy out at first and no advance by the runners.

“I got the bunt down, I just didn’t get it where I wanted it,” Bradley said.

So where did you want it?

“A little away from the pitcher. Anywhere but the pitcher,” he said.

Unfortunately for Boston, A’s lefty Fernando Abad pounced on the bunt while Bogaerts froze and Dustin Pedroia followed with a grounder to third to end the threat.

Farrell discussed the many factors going into the decision to have Bradley bunt. Abad’s presence had plenty to do with it, and it wasn’t quite time to bring one of the big bats off the bench.

“It’s not a suicide squeeze, it’s a safety squeeze, but if it’s in the intended area ... We felt like with the running speed of [Bogaerts] at third, we get it to the right area it’s a very difficult play to defend,” Farrell said. “Left on left in that situation. [Mike Napoli] was available but not looking to go there because of the way the wind was playing in the outfield. A tie game, still felt like outfield defense was at a premium. That was the call left on left.”

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Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY SportsWill Middlebrooks reacts after being tagged out at third by Josh Donaldson in the 10th inning.
2. Take two: After Will Middlebrooks led off the bottom of the 10th with a single and moved to second on center fielder Coco Crisp’s error, Bradley was in another situation to move a runner up 90 feet. He fouled off the first bunt attempt, then pulled the bat back on a called strike to fall behind 0-and-2 and force Farrell to remove the bunt sign.

Farrell again discussed what he hoped would occur.

“Get the tying run 90 feet from home plate and then we’ve got a lot of things coming,” he said. “Pedey’s had a lot of success against [Oakland reliever Jim] Johnson. [Shane Victorino] has swung the bat well against him. We’re in the meat of the order with two shots and a guy 90 feet away.”

Even with the bunt called off, Bradley did his best to try to move up Middlebrooks by bouncing one to the right side. Give credit to A’s first baseman Daric Barton for pouncing on the chopper and firing across the diamond to nail Middlebrooks, who slid in headfirst and appeared to jam his shoulder on the play.

3. Middlebrooks’ take: The Sox third baseman said his shoulder is fine: “Just kind of zinged me. I’m fine. I’m not hurt.”

As for the play that erased him from the bases, Middlebrooks was just trying to make something happen.

“Trying to make a hustle play, trying to advance on that. Knew it was going to be tough,” he said. “I was breaking off the bat so I didn’t know if it was to his right, to his left, right at him. Unfortunately it was right at him, but I had to take that chance at that point in the game to get to third base with one out.”

4. The winning run: None of this would have mattered much if Oakland had not scored a run against suddenly struggling lefty Chris Capuano in the top of the 10th, when Farrell was forced to make some more tough decisions.

He had already used up closer Koji Uehara in the ninth. The A’s had left-handed hitter Eric Sogard and then Crisp -- a switch hitter who has slightly worse career numbers versus lefites -- due up to begin the frame. Sogard was hit for, but Capuano got that out and retired Crisp. At that point, Farrell was just hoping for one more out from his reliever, even with lefty killers Jed Lowrie and Josh Donaldson the next two hitters in the lineup.

It didn’t work.

Lowrie crushed a double to left-center and Donaldson was intentionally walked. Oakland manager Bob Melvin went to Alberto Callaspo as a pinch hitter, but Capuano lost him on a 3-and-2 pitch. Lowrie then scored on Yoenis Cespedes’ infield hit against Burke Badenhop.

“We’re sitting in a two-out situation, they’ve got their best right-handed hitter at the plate,” Farrell said. “We looked to manage the inning and get that final out. With Callaspo, that 3-2 changeup puts our backs against the wall in a bases-loaded situation.

“Final out was tough to come by.”

Farrell removed Capuano in the middle of an at-bat Saturday, but stuck with him despite difficult matchups in this one. One wonders if Badenhop could have been brought in a batter or two earlier to turn Lowrie around or go after Donaldson. However, the fact that Uehara and Junichi Tazawa were already used up, and that fellow right-hander Edward Mujica was unavailable, meant that Farrell needed to squeeze every out he could from each guy in the event the game carried on. Badenhop was the last righty remaining.

5. Sensing a theme here: It seems as if every loss for the Red Sox involves frustrating moments with runners on base, as was the case Sunday, when they went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position and had the notable failures in the seventh and 10th innings.

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Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesA.J. Pierzynski points toward the Sox dugout after tying the game with a solo homer in the seventh.
It is perhaps the most basic of the many ugly numbers in this department, but Boston is now hitting .222 with runners in scoring position on the year.

6. There were some positives: John Lackey did what he could to keep the Sox in it, allowing two runs in six innings in his third straight solid start.

“He gave us everything he had,” Farrell said. “They did a good job of running the pitch count up. I thought today was a much different strike zone to which to pitch to, and his pitch count climbed a little bit, but a quality start. Gave us an opportunity to win here today.”

Melvin was not pleased with the strike zone given to Jon Lester on Saturday, feeling it was too wide. It sounds like Farrell found Lackey a bit squeezed.

7. Start me up: Lackey, Lester and Clay Buchholz combined to thwart what was the best road offense in the league entering the series. The trio allowed three runs on 10 hits in 20 1/3 innings against Oakland, striking out 24 in the process.

The strikeout-to-walk ratio of Boston’s starters is now at 2.89. The last time the Sox finished with a better mark with its rotation was in 2002 (2.97).

8. Always in the mix: At least that’s the way it seems for Farrell when he looks at the play of catcher A.J. Pierzynski, whose solo homer in the seventh forged a 2-2 tie on Sunday.

“Came at a big time to tie things up. He’s been swinging the bat well,” Farrell said. “When we’re able to put some runs on the board A.J. is seemingly in there somewhere and that came at a big time today.”

Pierzynski is 13-for-35 (.371) with two home runs, two doubles and two of his three walks in his last 10 games.

9. Can’t get over the hump: Since falling to 2-3 on April 5, the Sox have had eight chances to return to .500, Sunday being the most recent. They are 0-8 in those affairs, losing by one run in four of them and in extra innings twice.

10. It doesn’t get easier: Sure, Oakland leaves town and there are four off days in the next 15, but once this homestand ends Wednesday, Boston will enter a challenging portion of the slate. From May 9 through June 29, the Red Sox play 38 of 58 games on the road, including visits to Texas, where they often struggle, as well as Atlanta, Detroit, Baltimore, Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees. Also included in the run is the club’s first West Coast trip, involving four games at Oakland (Boston is 12-28 there since 2005) and three at Seattle.

Buckle up.

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