Wheeler finds no relief in walkoff loss
TORONTO - It was a tough spot for any reliever to find himself: Two outs, bottom of the 11th inning of a scoreless game, and a relatively unknown opponent at the plate facing a 1-and-1 count.
But Dan Wheeler, who replaced Jonathan Papelbon at the start of the inning for the Red Sox, said he wasn’t worried.
“I don’t think like that,’’ said Wheeler, who gave up the walkoff home run to Toronto third baseman Brett Lawrie in yesterday’s 1-0 loss to the Blue Jays. “I just think that I have to go out and make a pitch and that’s what it boils down to, and I didn’t do that.
“The kid hit it pretty good.’’
Lawrie sent home the Labor Day crowd of 27,573 at Rogers Centre in a euphoric mood after he deposited Wheeler’s fastball into the bleachers in left-center to record his eighth homer of the season.
To that point, the Sox bullpen had performed admirably in the extra-inning affair after starter Josh Beckett departed after only 3 2/3 innings, complaining of right ankle stiffness.
“Our guys threw great,’’ Wheeler said. “It’s just unfortunate that I had to leave a pitch out over the middle of the plate. Obviously, the kid’s a good, young hitter in this league and he did what he was supposed to do with it.’’
Alfredo Aceves was summoned on short notice to relieve Beckett and pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings.
“It was tremendous,’’ said manager Terry Francona. “I mean, Aceves continues to come in in situations like that and gives us a chance to win. It was unbelievable.’’
Aceves inherited Lawrie with a 2-and-2 count.
After walking Lawrie, Aceves induced Jose Molina to hit an inning-ending fly to right. Aceves struck out the side in the fifth, and, after giving up a one-out single to Adam Lind, got out of the sixth by getting Edwin Encarnacion to ground into a double play.
“As soon as we saw Mike [Reinold, the team’s head athletic trainer] go to the field, everybody got up in the bullpen,’’ Aceves said. “Every single one of our pitchers. We were waiting [on word] for Beckett. We were worried about him. Unfortunately, he couldn’t finish this game.’’
Daniel Bard did his part when he replaced Aceves with one out and two men aboard in the eighth. The flame-throwing righthander got out of the inning by getting the last two outs on a fly ball to right and a strikeout of Lind.
Bard retired the Blue Jays 1-2-3 in the ninth, turning it over to Papelbon for the start of extra innings.
“We all just did our normal things,’’ Bard said of the job by the bullpen. “Ace deserves the credit for keeping that thing close and keeping everything intact.’’
Entering the 10th, Papelbon had allowed just three runners, all on singles, with 20 strikeouts in 17 scoreless innings in his previous 17 games. He extended that streak, yesterday, but not without some drama. Papelbon struck out Lind on three pitches to leave the bases loaded after a leadoff single and a pair of walks.
Enter Wheeler, who retired the first two batters in the 11th, getting Encarnacion to fly to right and Kelly Johnson to pop to Marco Scutaro at shortstop before giving up the homer to Lawrie.
“It’s tough. I totally feel for him,’’ Bard said. “You see guys working hard the whole day and you feel like you let everyone down, but at the same time everyone knows he was out there doing everything he could to shut ’em down.
“He’s been throwing the ball so well lately. Hopefully he’ll look past this and get back to what he was doing.’’
Wheeler plans on doing just that.
“Yeah, you have to,’’ he said. “That’s the only thing you can do. You can’t think about it. It’s part of it, sometimes. It’s unfortunate. No one likes to go up there and do that, but tomorrow we got to come back out here and win the game.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com