TORONTO — In their last-ditch attempt to stave off yet another agonizing defeat in what has been a recent string of them, the Red Sox went with a five-man infield with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the 10th inning on Tuesday night at Rogers Centre.
But that didn’t work either.
In a fearsome Toronto lineup that has sluggers George Springer, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., it was the light-hitting Raimel Tapia who did exactly what his team needed, lifting a fly ball over that five-man infield and into left field for a sacrifice fly that handed the reeling Red Sox a 6-5 loss in 10 innings.
Considering that the season is only 18 games old for a team that slipped to 7-11, it’s not a stretch to say this was the most stinging defeat of the season for Boston.
Especially when you consider that the Red Sox finally mounted the substantial rally that had eluded them the previous eight days, putting up a big four-spot in the top of the eighth that turned a 2-1 deficit into a 5-2 lead.
With two outs in the ninth, Boston still led by two. But that was when lefty reliever Jake Diekman’s 96.1 mph fastball to Springer was center-cut. Springer, who always seems to torment the Red Sox in the late innings, did it again, this time with a two-run equalizer that sent the Rogers Centre faithful into a frenzy.
“That was a rough one,” said Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts. “Especially because we know how we’ve started the season. That one did sting a lot.”
This was the sixth loss in the last seven games and seventh in the last nine for a team that has high hopes this season.
It was Bogaerts who had a chance to put Boston up in the top of the 10th, even after the gut punch provided by Springer.
With Trevor Story on third and one out, the 102.1 mph laser by Bogaerts caught a piece of Jays pitcher Jordan Romano instead of going up the middle. Romano fired to first for the second out and then struck out J.D. Martinez. The Red Sox didn’t bat again.
“That’s the frustrating part,” said Diekman. “Nick [Pivetta] pitched great, everyone [else] pitched great, the hitters scored when they had to, and I should be able to hold a three-run lead. It sucks right now, but tomorrow we’ve got to come out and play again.”
Winning the final two games of this four-game series against a tough Toronto team would be a good way for the Red Sox to snap out of their current rut.
“These moments don’t define us at all,” said Pivetta. “It’s what we do going forward.”
Despite the loss, there were a couple of good developments for the Sox, who played their sixth straight game without manager Alex Cora as he recovers from COVID-19.
That elusive rally
It would have been much more joyful if it had come in a win. But the way the Red Sox have been swinging the bats of late, Tuesday’s eighth-inning rally could mean big things going forward.
The offense needed a confidence-building sequence, and perhaps this was it.
The four runs in that frame were more than Boston scored in all but one game since April 18. The breakdown of what is supposed to be one of MLB’s top offenses went like this in the eight-game stretch that produced just two wins heading into Tuesday. Three runs, two runs, one run, two runs, four runs, two runs, two runs, two runs.
The biggest moment — the one that could have the biggest carryover — was prized but struggling free-agent acquisition Story scalding a game-tying double off the wall at an exit velocity of 111.8 mph, marking his hardest-hit ball with his new team.
If Story, who has a .594 OPS and has been leading off lately, can get going, it could have a ripple effect on the entire lineup.
“That was huge for us and for him,” said Bogaerts. “He’s been hitting a couple of balls hard. I feel like he’s been just missing some pitches and some breaking balls. His swing looks good. Maybe a timing issue. He’s been just under a couple of balls, but that was huge for us and definitely got us going.”
Pivetta shows improvement
Pivetta, who is Boston’s No. 2 starter with Chris Sale and James Paxton both on the 60-day injured list, wasn’t effective in his first three starts.
Though his control (four walks) still abandoned him at times on Tuesday, Pivetta looked much better in this one.
Over 4 2/3 innings, he held the heavy-hitting Jays to three hits and two runs while striking out six.
“It was definitely a step forward,” Pivetta said. “Obviously the four walks are unfortunate, but I felt much better with my mechanics and competed in the zone better when I needed to.”