They were all there, dangling on the base paths. They were more than stranded base runners, they were squandered opportunities.
First it was Shane Victorino. He sneaked his way on with a bunt single in the first inning of the Red Sox’ 3-2 loss to the Blue Jays Saturday at Fenway Park, moved to second on Dustin Pedroia’s single, and from there was in a holding pattern.
He was a left turn from giving the Sox an early lead, but he just sat there.
David Ortiz couldn’t drive him in. Neither could Mike Napoli.
Then it was Will Middlebrooks. Grinding his way out of a slump, he hit a one-out double in the second. But after Stephen Drew walked, David Ross struck out and Jacoby Ellsbury grounded out.
All together, the Sox left eight runners hanging out to dry. The had 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position and came up empty on all of them, undermining a two-run, eight-inning outing by Clay Buchholz.
With the Sox’ two-run eighth-inning rally not enough after Toronto’s Adam Lind homered in the ninth off Junichi Tazawa, they walked away trying not to let thoughts of missed scoring chances nag them as they lost for the seventh time in nine games.
“We create and continually create opportunities for ourselves multiple times in multiple innings and yeah, there’s some frustration there,” said manager John Farrell.
Over the past three games, the Sox have left 27 runners on base. And they’ve managed to win more than their share of games without always cashing in (they are 4-2 in games when they’ve left more than 10 stranded).
But with Mark Buehrle on the mound for the Blue Jays, they ran into a pitcher who made sure that opportunities were few and far between.
After giving up a two-out single to Ortiz in the third, Buehrle sat down 13 straight Sox, bouncing back after being tagged by the Sox for five runs on seven hits in 6⅔ innings May 1 at Rogers Centre.
He battled with Buchholz, who despite giving up RBI singles to Melky Cabrera in the third and Colby Rasmus in the fourth went at least six innings for the eighth time this season, working out of some early jams to keep the Sox within striking distance.
“I felt like a couple times I was trying to do too much with it,” said Buchholz, who finished with four strikeouts.
“Obviously, you can’t throw strikes when you’re trying to make a pitch a better pitch than you have to. I tried to stay focused on just throwing the ball down in the zone rather than to a corner, and started having a little success with that.”
Buehrle had five strikeouts. By and large, he muted the Sox’ loudest bats. Ortiz and Napoli combined to go 1 for 7. Ortiz’s single snapped a run of 17 straight hitless at-bats. Napoli, who was scorching in April, has gone hitless in his last eight at-bats, driving in just one run in the past 10 games.
“It’s part of baseball,” Napoli said. “You’re not going to be hot all the time.”
“You have to give credit where it’s due,” Farrell said. “Buehrle made a number of quality pitches with guys in scoring position.”
When Buehrle left in the eighth with a 2-0 lead and a runner on first, the window of opportunity finally cracked open for the Sox.
Ellsbury hit an RBI triple to deep center off Darren Oliver that got the Sox on the board and cut the lead in half.
After a strikeout, Pedroia shot a sharp ground ball to the left side of the infield that was too tricky for shortstop Munenori Kawasaki, who was playing in, to grab cleanly. Ellsbury trotted home to tie it up. After Pedroia stole second, Ortiz struck out. Oliver intentionally walked Napoli, but Jonny Gomes struck out looking.
In the ninth, Tazawa, the closer more by attrition with Joel Hanrahan out for the season and Andrew Bailey still on the disabled list, hung a curveball that Lind smashed to straightaway center.
But the Sox knew the game was still there for the taking, especially after Middlebrooks led off the bottom half against closer Casey Janssen with another double.
But in the end, he was there, dangling.
Drew lined softly to short. Daniel Nava pinch hit and skied one to left field. Ellsbury jumped on the first pitch Janssen fed him, bouncing back to the mound to end it.
“I think just of late, when we haven’t been winning, we can’t seem to come up with that big knock,” Ross said.
“It’s just one of those things. We’ve got to be patient and really just keep battling. Guys had good at-bats, it’s just one of those things, we can’t seem to have that blooper fall.
“That’s the major league season, you’re going to have some ups and downs, you’re going to get some bloopers here and there, and you’re going to get some homers.
“These guys come in and give us consistent at-bats every day, and that’s all you can ask for from a team.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.