BOSTON — Will Middlebrooks sprinted into foul territory, tracking the ball in the air. As Brian Dozier's bunt pop-up plummeted down, Middlebrooks leaped and made a sprawling catch to rob the Twins shortstop.
Shortly after the defensive gem in the 10th inning, the Red Sox relinquished the momentum. During the ensuing at-bat, Twins infielder Jamey Carroll — the No. 9 hitter — rifled a single into center field, which resulted in the go-ahead run in Boston's 6-5 loss.
The plays, split by mere seconds, embodied the Red Sox season. Each time the team teased everyone with a winning streak, they coughed up the progress by plunging into a losing streak.
"That's the story of the season," first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. "Got to fight it out. It's frustrating because of where we're at. We're getting closer to the end of the year and it's two months to go, but these are the kind of games we can't afford to lose."
After peeling off four straight victories, which included a pair of victories against contenders in the Yankees and Tigers, the Red Sox have regressed. Due to a sudden power outage, they've dropped three straight games.
But the Red Sox stranded 10 runners on base in this one and missed on countless opportunities to edge the Twins. With the bases loaded in the eighth, Jacoby Ellsbury struck out swinging while Dustin Pedroia flied out.
"Talent can only go so far. You have to find ways to win," Cody Ross said. "There's a difference between a talented group and a winning group. Right now, it feels like we're treading water. We've got to snap out of it."
Even in the ninth, Boston was presented with an opportunity to pounce. When Ryan Lavarnway drilled a double to deep center with two outs, Middlebrooks capped the inning with a groundout.
"We had chances, we just didn't come through," Pedroia said. "It's just tough."
For the first time all season, the players appeared resigned to the realistic fact their season was slipping away. And Friday's showdown never had the making of an extra-inning slugfest, considering the Red Sox led 5-1 heading into the fifth.
"We had good at-bats, we had chances and then we didn't have such good at-bats," Valentine said. "Yeah, we had a lot of hits, walks and Carl [Crawford] had a great game. Damn."
The Red Sox have dropped the past two games in polar opposite fashion. During Thursday's loss, the offense only mustered up two hits. But in Friday's defeat, they collected 14 hits — but never when needed.
With the third straight loss that brought them to 53-54, the Red Sox plunged back below .500 for the first time since July 28. As Gonzalez mentioned, the inconsistent play is summing up the story of the season.