When Bobby Valentine came to the mound in the ninth inning Sunday afternoon, Clay Buchholz tried to hand him the baseball. The manager, he assumed, had come to take him out of the game.
But Valentine told him to keep it. He was there only to gauge whether Buchholz wanted to stay in and clean up his own mess.
The Toronto Blue Jays had runners on first and third with one out in a tie game. Buchholz had thrown 113 pitches, but Valentine felt he had earned the right to determine his own fate.
“All year long, Clay’s been totally honest with me, every chance,” Valentine said.
Faith and honesty weren’t enough for the Red Sox. Buchholz allowed the go-ahead run to score as the Blue Jays completed the series sweep with a 4-3 victory.
Rajai Davis singled with one out in the ninth and stole second. He took third when Anthony Gose singled. Valentine came to the mound at that point and Buchholz gave him the answer he wanted.
“I was like, ‘Go back to the dugout. I’m going to try and get a ground-ball double play right here,’ ” Buchholz said. “I’d rather they put it all on me.”
The double play was foiled when Gose stole second. The Sox intentionally walked pinch hitter Kelly Johnson to face 45-year-old Omar Vizquel.
Buchholz got ahead 0-and-2 and tried to throw a cut fastball inside. But the ball stayed out over the plate and Vizquel managed to hit the ball deep enough to left field for a sacrifice fly.
“Clay made good pitches the whole night. He deserved better,” Valentine said.
Vizquel has driven in five runs all season, two of them in what was his last game at Fenway Park before retirement.
“I was thinking when they walked Johnson, ‘Wow, what a way to go out if I can just get the RBI in and win the game.’ That’s exactly what happened. It was very nice,” Vizquel said.
The Sox have lost four straight, 11 of 12, and a staggering 16 of their last 20 games.
At 63-78, the Sox are 15 games under .500 for the first time since they finished the 1992 season 73-89.
Buchholz (11-6) allowed seven hits, all singles. Six of the hits contributed to the four runs.
Buchholz had a 2-0 lead going into the fourth inning. Singles by Davis, Gose, and Jeff Mathis accounted for one run. Vizquel followed with a sacrifice fly to left field.
Adeiny Hechavarria’s RBI single to left field gave Toronto a 3-2 lead.
The Sox scored all three of their runs off Toronto starter Carlos Villanueva on home runs.
Cody Ross drew a walk with one out in the second inning and jogged around when Jacoby Ellsbury drove a changeup just over the back wall of the Red Sox bullpen.
Villanueva left the pitch up and over the plate after falling behind 2-and-1. It was the third homer of the season for Ellsbury.
Valentine dropped Ellsbury to sixth in the lineup for the game, the first time he has hit in that spot since 2009. Ellsbury was in a 5-for-36 slump and hadn’t had an extra-base hit or a run batted in since Aug. 27.
“He’s working real hard, “Valentine said before the game. “Talked to him about how he was feeling yesterday. He feels good. He says at any time he could just get hot as a firecracker.”
Ellsbury was not available for comment after the game.
Trailing, 3-2, the Sox tied it in the sixth when Dustin Pedroia homered to left. It was his 14th of the season.
The Sox otherwise struggled offensively with leadoff hitter Ryan Kalish playing a role in that.
Kalish had a single in the first inning and was bunted to second by Scott Podsednik. When Pedroia grounded to third, Kalish tried to advance to third and was tagged by Brett Lawrie, who then threw to first for a double play.
“The play was right in front of him,” Valentine said.
Kalish drew a walk with two outs in the fifth and was picked off first by Mathis, the catcher. For a team having so much trouble scoring, making two outs on the bases was particularly egregious.
“He hasn’t played a lot and that’s why he is playing, so he can learn,” Valentine said. “Those are learning situations.”
The Sox got a leadoff single from James Loney in the bottom of the ninth. Ross followed with a long fly ball to left field that was foul by only a few feet.
“Thought I had it. But it took a left turn and unfortunately went foul,” said Ross, who then struck out looking at a curveball from Casey Janssen. Ellsbury followed with a fly ball to deep center before Mike Aviles fouled out.
Toronto’s bullpen threw three scoreless innings, with Brandon Lyon (2-0) getting the win.
Many in the crowd hung in until the end of the game only to leave disappointed. At this point, the final 21 games can’t come fast enough.
Valentine was glum even before the game after answering a series of questions related to injuries, underachieving players, and other setbacks that have marred the season.
“Only three more weeks of this,” he said on his way out of the room.Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.