The 2013 Boston Red Sox were unique in that each member of the team had a signature moment. The 2014 Red Sox are unique for far less glorious reasons, as each player seemingly has had a moment of despair.
The Red Sox’s bullpen has been a stable force all season despite Boston’s woes. Thus, when Jon Lester exited after six innings Friday with the Red Sox leading 3-2, it was hard to imagine the unit crumbling en route to a 6-4 loss. That’s what happened, though, as the typically reliable Junichi Tazawa completely imploded in a defeat that further highlighted Boston’s overwhelming uphill battle.
Lester allowed two runs on six hits while striking out seven. He exited in line for his 11th win, as David Ortiz and Shane Victorino recaptured the lead for Boston in the sixth inning with a pair of RBI singles. Andrew Miller drilled Jose Molina with a pitch to begin the seventh inning, though, and things quickly unraveled.
Miller rebounded to strike out Logan Forsythe before handing the keys to Tazawa, who entered with a 1.59 ERA (three earned runs over 17 innings) in 20 road appearances this season. Tazawa allowed the next four hitters to reach base and walked off the mound following the seventh inning with Tampa Bay leading 6-3.
Tazawa began his outing by walking Desmond Jennings, who briefly gave the Rays a 2-1 lead in the fifth inning with a two-run homer into the left-center field seats. Ben Zobrist then put an inside-out swing on a fastball and dropped it into left field. It was clear the Rays were going to challenge left fielder Jonny Gomes, and that mindset paid dividends. Gomes mishandled Zobrist’s single while Cole Figueroa, who pinch-ran for Molina, scored easily from second base with the tying run.
Tazawa issued a second free pass to Brandon Guyer. It loaded the bases for Tampa Bay’s biggest offensive threat, Evan Longoria, who ripped a bases-clearing double into the left field corner.
Game. Set. Match.
“Uncharacteristic with him misfiring as much as he did,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said of Tazawa’s seventh-inning implosion. “Just off the edge on a number of pitches. It’s not typical that you see him walk a couple of guys in a given inning.”
Tazawa entered Friday’s contest ranked fifth among American League relievers since the beginning of 2013 with a 5.65 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He didn’t record a single punchout and walked two for the first time in his major league career. It appeared Tazawa, who hadn’t pitched since Sunday, was rusty, to say the least.
“He threw on the side up in Toronto (this week). We gave him a couple of days down; not because of any health reasons, but (we) just felt like it was a chance to give him some added rest coming into this series,” Farrell said. “But like I said, between he and Andrew, very uncharacteristic seventh inning.”
One of the stranger aspects of Tazawa’s poor outing — other than the two walks — was his reliance on his breaking ball. Tazawa turned to his curveball — his third-best pitch — in a 2-2 count to Longoria, and the All-Star third baseman jumped all over it to plate three runs.
“Against the part of the lineup where he was at, the use of his breaking ball is part of the mix, particularly early in the count,” Farrell reasoned. “But where he’s been so consistent with his fastball down and away to right-handers, that was the ball he was pulling off the plate a little bit.”
Tazawa has been incredibly dependable for the better part of two seasons. He was a key cog in Boston’s bullpen during last year’s World Series run, and he has enjoyed similar success in 2014 while again setting up for closer Koji Uehara.
This season has featured a constant barrage of disappointment, though, and Tazawa’s moment of despair certainly was ill-timed.
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