Give the 2014 Boston Red Sox credit. They?re creative.
Just when you thought the Red Sox couldn?t find any more ways to lose a baseball game, they discovered that squandering a ninth-inning rally requires only a well-placed chopper down the third base line.
The Red Sox entered the ninth inning Thursday trailing the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2 at PNC Park. Pirates closer Mark Melancon plunked Allen Craig with an 0-1 fastball to begin the inning. He then surrendered a single to Daniel Nava, which allowed Jemile Weeks, who pinch ran for Craig, to go from first to third.
With runners at the corners and no outs, the wheels were in motion for a Red Sox comeback. Those wheels quickly shot off the axle.
The Pirates? infield played back at double play depth, willing to sacrifice the tying run in favor of recording two outs. The Red Sox never obliged. Boston instead spoiled its golden opportunity in improbable fashion.
Will Middlebrooks hit a bouncer down the third base line. Weeks attempted to dive back into third base, but the ball struck him in fair territory, resulting in the inning?s first out by virtue of runner interference.
?I didn?t anticipate it going foul. I anticipated it being pretty much either way,? Weeks said. ?It was coming pretty much right in front of me at first, so I?m guessing the way he hit it, it kind of spun and came at me a little bit. My natural instinct was to do what I was told and to get back on a slow chopper. I tried to get back as fast as I could, and I didn?t think it was going to come right on top of me like that. But it did.?
Red Sox manager John Farrell emerged from the dugout to argue the call, contesting that Middlebrooks? chopper was foul. Neither third base umpire Andy Fletcher nor home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski agreed, however, and Boston?s chances of tying the game diminished greatly. Suddenly, the Red Sox were left with a situation in which the equalizer stood at second base with one out rather than at third base with no outs.
“Jemile made the right move. He made the right move. But that was the first time in my life I?ve ever seen that happen,” Red Sox third base coach Brian Butterfield said after the game, according to WEEI.com. “Sometimes, when it rains, it pours.?
A loss seemed inevitable following the mishap at third base. Sure enough, Jackie Bradley Jr. struck out looking on a pitch up in the strike zone — perhaps out of the zone — and Christian Vazquez grounded to second base to end the ballgame. The Red Sox, now 21 games below .500 (66-87), were swept away by the Pirates just like that.
The ninth-inning gaffe wasn?t the only disputed call at third base Thursday. Farrell also exchanged words with Fletcher in the fourth inning following Jordy Mercer?s double down the line that the Sox skipper thought was foul. Clearly, it?s been a frustrating season for the Red Sox and the three-game set in Pittsburgh offered little salvation.
The Red Sox have nine more games to outdo themselves. It’s back to the drawing board.