It doesn’t seem like too much to ask, having more wins than losses nearly two months into the season. For a franchise like the Red Sox, that should be a brief stop on the way to more meaningful achievements.
But for this particular team, it’s an obstacle that somehow keeps getting larger.
On six occasions this season, the Red Sox have had a chance to get on the right side of the line and failed. Sunday’s 4-3 loss against the Tampa Bay Rays was particularly painful.
Sean Rodriguez drove a fastball from Alfredo Aceves out of the park with one out in the ninth inning to give the Rays a lead, his two-run homer quieting what had been a noisy crowd of 37,844 at Fenway Park.
There was no walkoff magic against Fernando Rodney this time, the Tampa Bay closer retiring the Sox in the bottom of the ninth less than 24 hours after he blew a save Saturday night.
“I would have liked to have won that one. Pretty close and we let it get away,’’ Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. “Damn.’’
Rays manager Joe Maddon, who verbally sparred with Valentine all weekend, was charitable afterward.
“We know exactly how they feel,’’ he said. “It’s not a good feeling.’’
Aceves emerged as a reliable closer after some missteps early in the season, allowing two earned runs in his previous 18 2/3 innings and converting nine consecutive save chances. He inherited a 3-2 lead to start the ninth, the Sox having gone ahead in the bottom of the seventh on a three-run home run by Adrian Gonzalez.
Aceves walked leadoff hitter Ben Zobrist on five pitches. After Luke Scott popped out, Aceves fell behind Rodriguez 3-and-1 and left a 93-mile-per-hour fastball belt high and right over the plate. Rodriguez sent it airmail to Lansdowne Street.
Aceves refused to speak to reporters after the game. His catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, was more accountable.
“The guy’s been automatic for us, so I didn’t expect it,’’ Saltalamacchia said of Aceves. “It’s tough not to get a win, period. You get up by one and you got your closer in there and it’s part of the game. It happened to them last night, it happened to us tonight, and all we can do is focus on tomorrow.’’
It was Saltalamacchia who gave the Sox the win on Saturday with a two-run home run in the ninth.
David Ortiz also came to the defense of Aceves.
“He’s been outstanding,’’ Ortiz said. “But that happens. When you’re pitching out there, anything can happen. That’s not what you want to do. But it happens. Hopefully his next outing he can come out and do what he’s been doing.’’
Gonzalez would have been the hero. With the Sox trailing, 2-0, Ortiz drew a walk from Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson to start the seventh. Kevin Youkilis then singled before Gonzalez drove a changeup down the line in left field for his fourth home run of the season.
Gonzalez had a chance for more in the eighth inning, coming up with the bases loaded and two outs against Jake McGee. But this time he grounded out.
“It’s a tough defeat,’’ Gonzalez said. “But our bullpen has been doing a great job the last month. It’s one of those things. You can’t get too frustrated with that.
“It’s not devastating. It’s tough, but it’s not devastating. We’ll come out tomorrow and try to win a game.’’
Clay Buchholz, who earlier this season was credited with some victories he didn’t deserve, saw seven strong innings wasted. He allowed two runs on eight hits with one walk and six strikeouts in what was easily his best start of the season.
“I was very encouraged,’’ Valentine said. “He looked good.’’
Buchholz, whose changeup has improved steadily, had runners on base in every inning but the second. But unlike past starts, he cut rallies short and made pitches when needed.
With the Sox holding a 3-2 lead, Franklin Morales and Vicente Padilla handled the Rays in the eighth inning, setting it up for Aceves. But what would have been another satisfying victory quickly turned sour.
Now the Red Sox have the Tigers coming in for four games and the quest to get over .500 will continue.
For all their treading water, the Sox are only 5 1/2 games out of first place in a packed-together American League East.
“It’s going to be like that all year,’’ Gonzalez said. “Nobody’s going to pull away. We’ve got five good teams and I think the last two months are going to be very important. The team that plays the best baseball then is the team that’s going to come out on top. We’re two months in and we still have four months to go. These games matter. We have to keep grinding it out and keep winning games.’’