Tuesday night the Red Sox lost for just the fourth time this season when leading after seven innings, falling to 58-4 in said situations when a borderline pitch went the way of Marco Scutaro, and his bases loaded walk forced home the decisive tally in a 3-2 win for the Giants.
But while the game was ultimately decided late, it was a series of choices made by the Red Sox -- some good, some not -- that put them in that precarious position to begin with. So let's take a look at some of the decisions that shaped an outcome that left Boston tied with Tampa Bay atop the American League East:
John Farrell was justifiably excited about the opportunity to get top prospect Xander Bogaerts into his first big-league game, though with his inclusion came the exclusion of Stephen Drew against San Francisco righty Ryan Vogelsong. The regular shortstop has a very solid .828 OPS against right-handed pitchers this season, and while he was just 1-for-3 in his career against the Giants' veteran, he began the night as the only Sox batter ever to record a hit off him.
Without Drew, there was only one player in Boston's Tuesday lineup that had ever reached base against Vogelsong -- and that was pitcher Jake Peavy, who once drew a walk. Additionally, by sitting Drew on the same night as David Ortiz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (two more who do their best work against right-handed pitching), it put on the bench three of the five Sox hitting better than .300 this month.
And, wouldn't you know, when it came time for the Red Sox' shortstop to hit for the first time in the game, the bases were loaded with two away. The second time, again with two down, there were runners on second and third. Bogaerts ground out both times, while Drew -- second on the club with a .949 OPS when hitting with two outs and runners in scoring position -- watched from the bench.
Farrell pulls Peavy in the sixth.
The manager wasn't bleepin' kidding Peavy, to answer the barking starter's question, when he lifted the right-hander with two outs and the tying run on second in the sixth inning. It took control of the situation out of Peavy's ultra-competitive hand, which he didn't much like after firing only 92 pitches, but it's hard to dispute Farrell's logic -- particularly given that they were playing under National League rules.
Peavy was due to bat second in the next half inning, and with the score at 2-1 (or worse), Farrell had already made the decision he'd pinch-hit for the pitcher there. Bogaerts had made the last out in the previous inning, so using Drew in a double switch would be easy. And, to boot, Brandon Crawford was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Breslow in his career. Peavy's night was going to be over, anyway, so the manager merely seized the opportunity to improve the matchup with a fresh arm.
No bunt after David Ross' seventh-inning double.
On the NESN broadcast, Dennis Eckersley advocated the idea of a sacrifice bunt after Ross led off the seventh with a double, saying that in a big NL park there's no sense in playing for the big inning.
It wouldn't have been the worst play at that point, but with Drew -- a left-handed pull hitter -- at the plate, Farrell was right to let him swing away expecting that at a minimum he'd yank a ground ball and advance the runner that way. Vogelsong doesn't strike out a lot of hitters, and Drew hasn't dropped a successful sacrifice bunt since 2011, so the right play was to trust that he'd do the job. The trouble came in the execution, not the strategy, and thus Ross and the insurance run he represented were left stranded.
Shane Victorino catches Buster Posey's foul pop.
With one out and men on the corners in the eighth, and the Sox still holding on to their 2-1 advantage, the Giants cleanup hitter floated a high fly into foul territory in medium-depth right field. With Scutaro at third, it was certainly deep enough to score the runner, which put the choice in Victorino's hands.
Should he catch the ball, knowing it would tie the game, but getting the second out to lessen the chance of San Francisco putting together a bigger inning? Or should he let it fall, and let Junichi Tazawa try to pitch his way out of the jam?
He chose the former, fearful that the reigning NL MVP would subsequently find a gap and the Red Sox would fall behind with San Fran closer Sergio Romo looming. However, this wasn't last year's Posey that Tazawa was pitching to. Since the All-Star break, the catcher is hitting just .226 with little power, and he was already 0-for-3 on Tuesday night. Furthermore, there was a runner on first, so there was the opportunity that Tazawa could escape with a double play -- something Posey hit into more of than all but one NL batter in 2012, and something he's done a dozen times in 2013.
Tazawa doesn't induce a lot of twin-killings -- he had prompted two in 40 opportunities before Posey dug in -- and so it might not have ever played out that way. But Victorino had decided while sprinting into position that he wouldn't let the situation get that far.
Franklin Morales came in to start the ninth.
He hasn't pitched a clean inning all season, which makes him a tough choice to go to in the ninth inning of a tie game. But credit Brandon Belt with forcing the Red Sox' hand there. He put together an eight-pitch at-bat in the eighth, driving Tazawa's pitch count up to 24, and essentially eliminating any chance he could go multiple innings while working for the third time in four days.
With Brandon Workman having thrown on each of the previous days, that left Farrell to choose between Morales, Brayan Villarreal, and Drake Britton if he wanted to save Koji Uehara for a save situation. Given Britton's recent struggles, there was no great solution.
Villarreal comes in with the bases loaded.
This is the decision that proved lethal for the Sox -- and the one that was easiest to first guess, let alone question after the fact. After Morales melted down, walking and hitting consecutive batters after getting into a 1-2 count with each, Farrell decided he couldn't trust the lefty with the bases loaded.
But there's nothing to suggest he could've trusted Villarreal, either. Acquired from the Tigers as part of the Peavy-Jose Iglesias trade, he had walked eight men in 4.1 major-league innings this season -- equating to a gross BB/9 rate of 16.6 -- and it was no more encouraging in the minors, where he posted 10.5 walks per nine innings between Toledo, Lowell, and Pawtucket.
Particularly with a patient grinder like Scutaro at the plate, that is not a guy you want on the mound with a chance to force in the winning run, regardless of what the alternative may be. The Sox would've been better off letting Morales try to wiggle his way out of trouble there. Or go to Britton and his 2.5 BB/9 rate.
Or, best yet, bring on Uehara. He would've pitched to a maximum of one hitter in the ninth, then could've come back for the 10th to preserve the game or protect a lead. He'd thrown 13 pitches in the previous week. He was fresh enough to handle that workload. And, at the very least, he would've likely made Scutaro and San Francisco earn their victory. Instead, with the decision to bring on Villarreal, the deciding run came too easy.
|Jacoby Ellsbury, CF||1-for-4, R, SB, K: The center fielder started the night with a single, but that wound up his only hit. He did steal his 45th base, though he also made it nine straight contests with a whiff. He never went more than five straight games with a K during his magical 2011 season, while his longest prior streak this year was six games -- starting a current stretch in which he's struck out in 17 of 20 tilts.|
|Shane Victorino, RF||1-for-3, R, RBI, HBP, HR: He roped his eighth home run over the wall above the left field corner, batting right-handed against the righty Ryan Vogelsong. It was just the second homer he's hit in 130 right-on-right plate appearances in his career, and this season he's now hitting .323 against righties since an ailing hamstring forced him to temporarily give up hitting lefty.|
|Dustin Pedroia, 2B||1-for-3, BB: His first-inning single probably would've scored Ellsbury had Scutaro not managed to keep it on the infield. With two more groundouts, he never wound up getting the ball to the outfield all night -- but once again his defense helped save a run, as he made consecutive plays to keep Joaquin Arias from scoring after he reached third with nobody out in the fifth.|
|Mike Carp, 1B||0-for-3, RBI, 2 K: He opened the scoring with a sac fly to right, but otherwise it was a rough night at the plate before -- in a good sign as far as his foot injury is concerned -- Mike Napoli entered as a defensive replacement.|
|Will Middlebrooks, 3B||2-for-4, 2 R, RBI, BB, 2B, 2 K: His first hit was a gift, as he got credit for a single when Scutaro misplayed a routine grounder to second -- but his second hit was a good, crisp, clean liner to left. Tuesday marked the third time in four games, and fifth time in 10, that he collected two hits.|
|Daniel Nava, LF||1-for-4, 2B: His 21st double extended his streak to 32 consecutive starts in which he's reached base. Dating to June 22, it's the second-longest active streak in the majors, trailing only the 40-game run of the Angels' Mike Trout. Not bad company, there.|
|Xander Bogaerts, SS||0-for-3, K: The heralded rookie had a chance to make a big impact with his bat in his major-league debut, though he left the bases loaded in the first, left runners on second and third in the third, then struck out in his third trip. He did, however, make what was looking like the game's pivotal defensive play, charging and showing quick hands to throw out Marco Scutaro and leave the tying run at third in the fifth.|
|David Ross, C||1-for-4, 2B: Back in the lineup for the first time since June 14, he used a nice piece of hitting to drive a pitch away to the base of the opposite-field wall in right for a leadoff double in the seventh.|
|Jake Peavy, P||0-for-2, K: The veteran righty actually homered twice in 2006 as a member of the Padres, though since coming to the American League in 2009 he's now just 1-for-21 at the plate.|
|Jake Peavy, SP||5.2 IP, 5 H, BB, 4 K: The Giants battled him with 22 foul balls, and Lester induced only 10 swings and misses among his 77 strikes (12.9 percent, compared to his season average of 14 percent), but the lefty prevailed.|
|Craig Breslow, RP||1.1 IP: Another solid outing for the lefty, who stranded the runner Peavy left for him. He's now allowed only one of eight inherited runners to score this month.|
|Junichi Tazawa, RP||IP, ER, 2 H, K: Beaten by Brandon Belt after a long battle, Tazawa was tagged with his seventh blown save of the season -- and fourth of the last month. Each of the last three times he's come in with the Sox holding a one-run lead, he's been scored upon; those are the only runs he's yielded since July 27.|
|Franklin Morales, RP||0.2 IP, ER, H, BB, HBP, K: The lefty has now walked 11 and hit three batters in 15.1 innings this season. That's far too wild to be relied upon late in close games.|
|Brayan Villarreal, RP||0 IP, BB: Pitchf/X suggests his fourth pitch of his four-pitch walkoff walk was definitely a strike, and his first one was at least borderline. The second one was almost a foot high, but this indicates the reliever generally didn't miss by as much as the naked eye suggested on the initial view.|
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