Since the earliest days of spring training, Red Sox manager John Farrell and his coaches have promoted the idea of putting pressure on the opposition by running the bases aggressively.
It is a strategy that has paid off. The Red Sox have the best record in the American League, along with the most runs, doubles, triples, and stolen bases.
Saturday was one of the rare days this season that approach was more frustrating that fruitful.
The Sox had two runners thrown out at the plate and were sloppy defensively in a 6-2 loss against the Toronto Blue Jays before a sellout crowd of 37,437 at Fenway Park.
Farrell, often criticized during his two seasons in Toronto for being too reckless, offered no apologies after the Sox had a four-game win streak snapped. His players backed him up, too.
“We’ve played that way all season. It’s worked out pretty well,” said Shane Victorino, one of the runners thrown out. “I’ll take the way we play every time.”
With the Sox down, 2-0, Victorino doubled to start the sixth inning. When Dustin Pedroia hit a low line drive to right field, Victorino paused to make sure the ball was not caught by the second baseman.
With no outs and David Ortiz coming up, third base coach Brian Butterfield sent Victorino to the plate. Jose Bautista, who has one of the best outfield arms in the game, threw him out by 2½ steps.
Victorino’s only recourse was to plow into the catcher, but J.P. Arencibia held onto the ball.
“You’d like to have that one back. The fewer of those, the better. It’s the nature of the beast,” Butterfield said.
Said Farrell: “We look to put pressure on the defense. In that situation Bautista’s ranging to his right, comes up and throws about a 260-foot strike . . . I’ll live and die with every decision [Butterfield] makes at third base. He’s an outstanding third base coach.”
Ortiz singled but Blue Jays starter Esmil Rogers ended his outing by striking out Mike Napoli and Daniel Nava.
“It’s a tough call because David is coming up. I understand that,” Victorino said. “But I’m a speed guy and we hadn’t scored a run all day.”
In the seventh inning, still down, 2-0, Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled and went to third when Jose Iglesias bunted for a single and the Blue Jays threw the ball away.
With runners on the corners and no outs, Farrell called for a safety squeeze.
Jonathan Diaz, a career minor leaguer making his major league debut Saturday, bunted the ball back to 42-year-old pitcher Darren Oliver and Saltalamacchia was thrown out at the plate on a close play.
“Looking to force Darren Oliver to move off the mound and he makes a do-or-die play. Bare-hands it, throws it sidearm. Fortunately throws a strike for them,” Farrell said.
Farrell said the squeeze, if executed properly, is a high-percentage play. But with Saltalamacchia running and Diaz at the plate, the percentages went down.
The second question was whether Diaz should have been at the plate.
Though Oliver is lefthanded, lefthanded hitters have hit .405 against him this season. Farrell left lefthanded-hitting Mike Carp on the bench. Johnny Gomes, a righthander who has hit lefthanders well throughout his career, also was available.
“There were a couple of options. Knowing what Jon Diaz is capable of doing — and that’s one of them, [he’s] a very good bunter — that was the choice made,” Farrell said.
The Sox scored two runs to tie the game thanks to a two-run single by Victorino later in the inning. But the chance at a bigger inning was lost when Pedroia popped out and Ortiz struck out.
After a solid start by Felix Doubront, who pitched into the seventh inning, Junichi Tazawa started the top of the eighth for the Sox. Jose Reyes singled before Bautista hit his second home run of the game, a blast to left-center.
Tazawa left a split-finger fastball over the plate and Bautista added to his productive day.
“I was trying to bounce it a little bit in the middle of the plate but it got away from me,” Tazawa said.
Bautista has 201 home runs for his career, 16 at Fenway. That’s his most as a visitor at any ballpark.
Tazawa (4-3) has allowed six runs on eight hits — four of them home runs — in six appearances and 5⅓ innings against Toronto this season.
The Blue Jays scored two more runs in the ninth, errors by Napoli and Diaz contributing to what was an uneven game for the Sox.
The Sox were 3 for 13 with runners in scoring position. Napoli struck out four times, leaving three runners on. He is 13 of 57 (.228) in his last 15 games with one extra-base hit and seven RBIs.
Napoli’s last home run was June 1.
The Sox were convinced Napoli would hit well at Fenway. But his road OPS (.818) is better than his home OPS (.755).
“I’m not feeling the best at the plate. You go through that,” Napoli said. “I’m getting deep in counts but I’m not getting it done.”
The Sox have taken two of three in the series. Ryan Dempster starts the finale on Sunday.
“Weird day,” Victorino said on his way to the showers. “But no regrets.”