BOSTON — The Red Sox took two steps forward this weekend against the Oakland Athletics at Fenway Park. Unfortunately for Boston, those strides were followed by one step backward.
The Red Sox earned back-to-back wins over the Athletics to again reach the cusp of the elusive .500 mark. The Sox couldn’t clear the final hurdle, though, as they dropped a 3-2, 10-inning decision Sunday in a game of inches that summarized Boston’s beginning to the season.
Let’s flash forward to the seventh inning, as that’s when things started to break Oakland’s way.
A.J. Pierzynski answered Yoenis Cespedes’ sixth-inning RBI double with a game-tying homer. Xander Bogaerts followed with a walk, and pinch-hitter Jonny Gomes lifted a fly ball to right field that clanked off Josh Reddick’s glove after an extensive battle with the swirling wind.
That’s when the Red Sox’s luck ran out.
After Will Middlebrooks struck out, Red Sox manager John Farrell called for safety squeeze with runners at second and third, one out and Jackie Bradley Jr. at the plate. The play has worked a couple of times this season with Jonathan Herrera batting, but Bradley couldn’t get the bunt to a spot in the infield where Bogaerts could score from third base. Instead, the ball traveled back to reliever Fernando Abad, who looked Bogaerts back before tossing to first base for the out. Dustin Pedroia grounded out to end the threat.
“We felt like with the running speed with (Bogaerts) at third, if we get (the bunt) to the right area, it’s a very difficult play to defend,” Farrell said after the game while explaining the decision to call for a safety squeeze.
Another dribbler went Oakland’s way in the 10th inning. Cespedes hit a swinging bunt with the bases loaded that Middlebrooks barehanded and fired to first base a tad too late. The go-ahead run crossed the plate.
“It’s hard for me to tell. I’m on the run,” Middlebrooks said of whether he thought Cespedes was out. “From my angle, it looked like he beat (the throw).”
The Red Sox looked poised to answer in the bottom of the 10th inning after Middlebrooks’ line-drive single into right-center field bounced off Coco Crisp, enabling Middlebrooks to take second base. Bradley failed to get down a sacrifice bunt, though, and things yet again broke Oakland’s way. Bradley, who was swinging away in an 0-2 count, grounded to the right side, where first baseman Daric Barton made the play and tossed to third base to retire the lead runner.
“(I was) trying to make a hustle play and trying to advance on that. I knew it was going to be tough with (the infield) in,” Middlebrooks said. “I was breaking off the bat. I didn’t know if it was to his right, to his left (or) right at him. Unfortunately, it was right at him. I had to take that chance at that point in the game to get to third base with one out.”
Pedroia ended the game with a ground ball to short that the A’s turned into a double play.
If this seems like a narrative that has played out before, it’s because this season has been one of missed chances for the Sox. Sunday marked the Red Sox’s eighth chance to return to .500 since starting the season 2-2, and again they came up one step — a tiny pivot, really — short.