TORONTO — For a team with aspirations of playing in October, a 10-game road trip to Houston, Kansas City, and Toronto needed to produce more than four victories.
The Red Sox will return to Fenway Park for a weekend series with the Yankees still in first place in the American League East, but bruised up after a 2-1 loss against the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday night.
The Sox lost consecutive one-run games against the last-place Blue Jays to drop the series and ended the trip with losses in five of the last seven games. Now their lead in the division is down to two games.
The “easy” part of the month is over, too. After three games with the Yankees, the Sox start a six-game West Coast trip on Monday in San Francisco.
“We should have done better on this trip,” David Ortiz said. “But we needed to play better. Now the schedule is going to be crazy. It’s kind of stupid. But we have to get it together.”
Jake Peavy pitched well in his third start for the Sox, taking a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning. But that wasn’t enough on a night when the Sox put numerous runners on base and left them there.
The Sox had 11 hits and drew three walks off Jays starter Mark Buehrle and two relievers but were 2 of 11 with runners in scoring position and stranded 12 runners on base.
The Sox were 6 of 34 (.176) with runners in scoring position for the series, scoring eight runs total.
“Tonight the story is left on base,” manager John Farrell said. “We created a number of opportunities. I thought we had a very good approach against Buehrle to build those opportunities. He made a number of quality pitches with men in scoring position.
“This is a frustrating one here tonight.”
The inefficiency started in the first inning when Dustin Pedroia reached on an infield single with two outs and Ortiz walked. Jonny Gomes singled sharply to left field and Pedroia was sent to the plate by third base coach Brian Butterfield.
Pedroia came to the plate intending to slide to his right. But with catcher J.P. Arencibia standing there, Pedroia assumed the throw was to that side and so he went left without sliding.
He missed the plate entirely, then was tagged out.
“It was weird. J.P. didn’t move so I was trying to let the ball hit me,” Pedroia said. “He stayed on that side so I thought the ball was tailing. But it never hit me. It was kind of an awkward deal.
“I should have tried to slide or go through him or something.”
The Sox left the bases loaded in the second inning when Shane Victorino popped out. They then wasted a leadoff single by Pedroia in the third.
The Sox finally found a way to score in the fourth inning and were lucky they did.
Daniel Nava (3 for 4) doubled to left field with one out and went to third on a soft single to center by Will Middlebrooks. Jacoby Ellsbury grounded to second for what should have been a double play, but Munenori Kawasaki threw high to shortstop Jose Reyes and the Jays were able to get only one out.
The sixth inning was another letdown. After Stephen Drew singled to center and went to third on a single by Ryan Lavarnway, Buehrle (9-7) struck out Nava and Middlebrooks before getting Ellsbury to ground weakly to third base.
Buehrle lasted seven innings and threw 111 pitches. He allowed 10 hits and two walks. The win was his first against the Sox in nine starts dating to 2009.
Peavy went into the seventh inning working on a two-hit shutout. He had retired 18 of the 20 batters he faced but was working with no margin for error given the 1-0 lead.
“The score dictates everything how you pitch,” Peavy said. “But I felt like I had enough to make that one run stand.”
In a span of 10 pitches to three batters, Peavy’s outing was over and the Red Sox had lost the lead.
Jose Bautista led off with a hard-hit ball to third base that Middlebrooks deflected, but did not stop. It was initially called an error before charitably being changed to a hit.
“I’d like to think I make that play most of the time. But no excuse,” Middlebrooks said. “I’ve got to make that play for Jake.”
Said Farrell: “Typically that’s a play that should be made. Unfortunately it wasn’t.”
When Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie followed with line-drive singles to center field, it was 1-1 and Peavy was suddenly coming out of the game.
Peavy regretted the 0-and-1 cutter he threw to Lawrie. The pitch stayed up and was hit hard.
“The seventh inning got away from me in a hurry,” Peavy said. “I’ve got to make a better pitch to Lawrie. I’m OK with the first two guys but I’ve got to make a better pitch to Lawrie. I take full responsibility.”
Craig Breslow gave up a deep fly ball to center field by pinch hitter Mark DeRosa that went for a sacrifice fly and gave Toronto a 2-1 lead.
Toronto lefthander Darren Oliver got two outs in the eighth inning before Nava collected his third hit with a double to the base of the wall in center field.
Middlebrooks drew a walk to extend the inning. Ellsbury had a chance and struck out on four pitches, flailing at a slider that was down and away after Oliver threw him three straight fastballs.
Casey Janssen retired the Sox in order in the ninth inning.
The Sox actually picked up a game in the standings during the road trip. But it should have been more.
“It’s disappointing given how we’ll we’ve played on the road throughout the course of the year, particularly given the opportunities that we created for ourselves,” Farrell said. “We’ve got to go back home and regroup.”Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.