Sox can’t save sweep
In a discouraging turn, Papelbon coughs up lead in ninth
TORONTO — Jonathan Papelbon was sitting at his locker yesterday afternoon with his head down, staring at the towels by his feet, when David Ortiz walked by and squeezed his right arm, a gesture of solidarity to a teammate sorely in need of one.
Papelbon did not acknowledge Ortiz or even look up. This was one burden he would have to shoulder alone.
“Kind of a groggy day for me,’’ Papelbon said.
Others might put it in more harsh terms.
Just when the Red Sox were building the momentum needed to turn their fractured season into something hopeful, Papelbon cast it away. Handed a two-run lead to protect in the ninth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays, the closer allowed three runs, and the resulting 6-5 loss left the Red Sox stunned.
“These days happen,’’ Ortiz said. “It never gets easier.’’
The Sox took a 5-2 lead into the ninth, seemingly poised to win their fourth straight game and draw closer to a playoff berth. With John Lackey having thrown only 91 pitches, manager Terry Francona let him stay in the game.
Those good intentions were not rewarded. Lackey got ahead of Jose Bautista, 1 and 2, before leaving a 3-and-2 fastball over the plate. Bautista drove the ball over the fence in left field for his major league-leading 36th home run.
Francona took Lackey out, replacing him with Papelbon. The closer had an 0.82 earned run average in 39 appearances against the Jays and had converted all 24 save chances. It was the safe, ex pected move.
“When you give up a home run to lead off the inning, it’s normally what we do, go to Pap,’’ Francona said.
Vernon Wells lined the first pitch Papelbon threw to the gap in right-center for a double. Adam Lind grounded the next pitch sharply up the middle and into center for an RBI single.
Pinch runner DeWayne Wise stole second and went to third when Aaron Hill lined a ball off the bottom of Papelbon’s right foot that rolled away for a single
Papelbon struck out Travis Snider for the first out, but Edwin Encarnacion’s double down the line in left tied the score.
“It seemed like every one of my pitches today were just up in the zone in a pressure situation,’’ Papelbon said. “Obviously that can’t happen.’’
It was the sixth blown save of the season for Papelbon, the most he has ever had.
Francona then made an unprecedented decision by taking the ball away from Papelbon and bringing in Daniel Bard. It was the first time in 313 career regular-season relief appearances that a healthy Papelbon was taken out in the middle of an inning with the game tied.
“Sometimes games dictate it,’’ Francona said. “It’s not an ego thing. I’m trying to win the game. At that point, we’re trying to keep the ball out of the air. Pap was up.’’
Papelbon, whose ERA ballooned to 3.26, had no quarrel with the move.
“You want to finish games,’’ he said. “That’s my job. I want to finish games. The fact of the matter is that I didn’t execute my job and he passed it on to somebody else.’’
With the bases loaded and one out, Bard was trying to get a double play and threw a fastball low and inside to Fred Lewis. But Lewis hit the ball deep enough to center field, allowing Hill to tag up and score the winning run.
Bard had come into a similar situation against the Yankees Monday and struck out Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher with the bases loaded to end an inning. But the Red Sox had a 2-0 lead at the time.
“The difference is there’s no room for error there at all,’’ Bard said. “Just tough luck.
“If I try and go punchout, that kind of increases my chance of walking him and throwing balls out of the zone. I have to pitch with my best stuff in the zone in that situation and try to induce a ground ball or an infield popup, something soft.’’
The Blue Jays had a wild celebration on the field.
“[Papelbon] always shuts the door on us,’’ Hill said. “It’s nice to get a guy like that.’’
Until the ninth, the game had been a joyride for the Sox. Ortiz had homered and driven in two runs in support of Lackey, who atoned for two previous rocky starts against Toronto by allowing only three runs over eight-plus innings.
Jed Lowrie hit his first home run of the season and Darnell McDonald contributed an RBI triple.
But there was no reward. Lackey has one victory in his last eight starts, with the Sox winning only three of those games.
“I’m frustrated about a lot of things,’’ Lackey said. “Whatever.’’
Now the Sox, four games behind the Rays in the wild-card race, face three games at Texas, the AL West leader, after a loss that could tinge the days to come.
“It better not linger,’’ Francona said.
But Ortiz acknowledged the loss would be hard to shake.
“But what else can you do?’’ he said. “Come back out with a clean mind tomorrow.’’
Bard offered one remedy.
“Sweep Texas,’’ he said. “That’d be nice.