As he made his turn at third, Daniel Nava saw opportunity around the bend.
It was the first inning and David Ortiz had sent a liner sizzling into left field and Nava figured he could score on it from second.
He didn’t count on Yankees left fielder Vernon Wells coming up with the ball so quickly. He didn’t count on Wells unleashing a throw that was as accurate as it was strong. And he certainly didn’t count on taking a spill as he rounded the third base bag.
In the time it took Nava to pick himself up after stumbling, Wells had gotten his throw into catcher Chris Stewart, who was practically looking at his watch while waiting to slap Nava with the tag.
Even if he hadn’t stumbled, Nava said, “It still would’ve probably been a close play, but who knows what would have happened?”
But he knew it was an opportunity squandered, and in a game they never led, the Red Sox could count all the ways they threw it away.
Looking back at their 5-2 loss to the Yankees on Saturday at Fenway Park, the Red Sox knew the difference was all the runs they managed not to score. While the Sox found ways to squander the few opportunities that came their way, the Yankees cashed in.
Brett Gardner, Lyle Overbay, and Eduardo Nunez each had three hits for the Yankees. Meanwhile, the Sox went 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position. Afterward, their only choice was to put the missed chances behind them.
“In baseball, there are so many games, you have to let them go or else you’re not going to be able to get to the next one,” Nava said.
Still, with the Sox in the thick of a 10-game run against American League East rivals, it’s impossible not to look into the rearview mirror and realize how much closer those teams are than they once appeared. The Sox still own the best record in the American League, but the Tampa Bay Rays, who come to Fenway on Monday, are just 1½ games back in the East.
More than anything Saturday, the Sox were victims of their own aggressiveness.
In the fifth inning, Mike Carp got caught with his hands in the cookie jar, trying to race home when an errant slider by Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda bounced by Stewart.
Stewart wound up chasing that ball down and making the quick toss to the plate in time for Kuroda to tag Carp.
Even when the Sox tried to rally late, they were undone by base-running mistakes.
Nava managed to get doubled up when he tried to tag and advance on a Dustin Pedroia foul pop, with Stewart making a long throw from the stands to gun him down at second.
The play ended the inning with the Sox down by two and David Ortiz on deck.
“We had a couple of opportunities and we didn’t run the bases well, myself included,” Carp said.
It was clear coming in, with John Lackey on the mound for the Red Sox and Kuroda on the hill for the Yankees, that the scoreboard operators were only going to be so busy.
Kuroda hadn’t given up a run since June. Lackey hadn’t given up more than two in each of his previous six starts.
They stared each other down into the seventh inning. Lackey sawed through the Yankees’ lineup with seven strikeouts. Kuroda kept the Sox quiet, giving up just five hits and one walk. Kuroda stretched his scoreless string to 18 innings before the Sox got to him in the seventh. Kuroda (9-6) picked up his first win in four career starts at Fenway.
“[Kuroda] threw a lot of strikes,” Sox manager John Farrell. “He’s got such late action to his cutter, his split. Good location to his fastball. What was, I think, most impressive was even in that sixth and seventh inning, in these conditions, to reach back to touch 95-96 [miles per hour] against the meat of our lineup when he needed that extra velocity, he was able to get it.
“He’s a very good pitcher and pitched a very good game today against us.”
Lackey kept the Yankees in check, even when they had runners in scoring position, fanning five in the first four innings. But New York was able to get to him in the fifth as Gardner ripped a single up the middle to score Nunez.
By the seventh, Lackey’s fastball was straining to reach 89 miles per hour and he was leaning heavily on his cutter. He gave up a leadoff double to Nunez, who, one out later, came home on Luis Cruz’s single. When Gardner followed with another single, Lackey’s day was over.
Lefthander Matt Thornton came on, but the Yankees tacked on two more on RBI singles by Robinson Cano and Overbay, giving them enough cushion to sustain a late flurry by the Sox.
For the sixth straight start Lackey struck out at least five, but he got no run support. It was only the third time in Lackey’s 16 starts that the Sox failed to score a run while he was on the mound.
“John pitched a strong six-plus innings for us,” Farrell said. “I thought in that seventh inning, things started to back up on him and I totally understand in these conditions. I felt like where we were in that part of the order, to go to a lefthander was the call, but John was strong. Didn’t issue a walk to contribute to their base hits.
“They went early in the count on him because he does throw so many strikes, they strung some hits together, but he was able to stay away from the big inning until they were able to build that three-run inning in the seventh.”
With 11 of their next 14 games at home, the Sox are staring down opportunities they know they can’t pass up.
“There’s so much baseball left, it’s a long year,” said Carp. “We’ve got 60-something games left. Anything can happen. We’re still in first place. That’s all that we’re worried about right now.
“If anything that’s going to help us isolate our situation. Put us where we need to be.”