OAKLAND, Calif. — Red Sox righthander Brandon Workman admitted he was nervous when he made his major league debut against the Seattle Mariners last week.
It showed, too. The first batter hit a home run. Three doubles followed from there as he gave up three runs in a relief appearance.
The Red Sox, undeterred, gave Workman a chance to start against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday afternoon. This time, the quiet 24-year-old from Texas showed he could be a major player in the pennant race.
Workman took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning before an infield hit cost him a chance at history. The Sox went on to lose the game, 3-2, in 11 innings.
The Red Sox go into the All-Star break at 58-39 after a 5-5 West Coast trip that ended with two losses. They are 2½ games up in the American League East.
If Workman is able to help the Red Sox return to the postseason, the loss quickly will be forgotten. In what has been a season full of surprises, he was the latest player to step forward.
“He gave us an outstanding effort,” manager John Farrell said. “He didn’t show any kind of fear for the situation. He was poised. Very good mound presence. Good composure. Definitely had very good stuff.”
Workman allowed two runs on two hits over his 6⅓ innings. He walked one and struck out five. That came without having much of a curveball, a pitch he usually relies heavily on.
“I was able to locate my fastball to both sides of the plate early and kind of worked off that as the game went on,” he said.
Workman knew he had a no-hit bid going. But his bigger concern was the game. The Sox didn’t score until the sixth inning and led, 2-0, into the bottom of the seventh.
“That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to work deep into the game and pitch as long as I could,” Workman said. “Not giving up any hits was great while it lasted.”
Workman’s parents were in the O.co Coliseum crowd of 31,417 as he came to the mound in the seventh. He was trying to become the first rookie to throw a no-hitter since teammate Clay Buchholz in 2007.
Workman lost the no-hitter when Coco Crisp hit a groundball up the middle destined for center field. Dustin Pedroia dove for the ball like a swimmer leaving the starting blocks and stopped it.
Pedroia got to his feet in a flash, but his throw was too late to catch the speedy Crisp.
“Thought I had a chance,” Pedroia said. “But Coco, he’s too fast.”
Said Workman: “I thought it was a base hit up the middle. I can’t believe he got to that ball. I thought it was going all the way to center field for sure. That was unbelievable.”
After Crisp’s single, Workman got an out. Josh Donaldson was going to be his last hitter regardless.
Workman left a 3-and-2 fastball, his 103d pitch, over the plate and Donaldson hit a mammoth home run to center, the ball striking the facing of the football luxury suites.
“He hit it pretty well,” said Workman, who had not thrown more than 100 pitches in a game this season.
Donaldson later won the game with a bloop single in the 11th inning off Matt Thornton.
Farrell almost took Workman out after Crisp’s hit. But he felt the rookie could handle Donaldson, who had struck out in his previous at-bat.
“In retrospect, there’s no second-guessing on my part as far as the matchup in that situation,” Farrell said.
Workman faced the minimum 18 batters the first six innings. The only blemish was a walk to John Jaso in the fourth. But Workman struck out Donaldson and catcher Ryan Lavarnway threw out Jaso trying to steal second.
Lavarnway, who caught Workman once in the minors, marveled at the righthander’s approach.
“It was beautiful to catch him,” Lavarnway said. “He did a great job. He did everything we asked him to.”
Once Workman left, Craig Breslow and Koji Uehara blanked the Athletics for 3⅔ innings before Thornton made his debut with the Sox to start the 11th.
The Red Sox obtained Thornton, they said, with the intention of using him as a specialist against lefthanded hitters. But Farrell had him start the inning.
Oakland manager Bob Melvin immediately used righthanded hitting Chris Young as a pinch hitter and he drew a walk. Eric Sogard bunted the runner to second.
Thornton got Crisp, a switch hitter batting from the right side, to ground to third. Derek Norris, another righthanded pinch hitter, walked.
Donaldson got jammed with a fastball but hit the ball well enough to sail over the head of Pedroia and land where right fielder Daniel Nava had no play.
“I made a good pitch to Josh,” Thornton said. “The hit doesn’t matter if I don’t walk guys. I’m pretty bummed.”
Said Farrell: “We were a pitch away from getting out of it.”
The Sox loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the 11th. But Ryan Cook (2-2) struck out Brock Holt looking. The Sox were 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position.
Pedroia and Holt had RBI singles off Oakland starter Bartolo Colon. With how Workman was pitching, it looked like enough.
The Red Sox left for the All-Star break feeling good about their season despite the sour end of the road trip.
“We go home after a tough trip needing four days to recover from the physical standpoint. But overall very proud of the way this team has played,” Farrell said. “Our guys deserve a much-needed couple of days off here and looking forward to when we start back up on Friday.”