They wanted to win Sunday night for what was to come on Monday and they wanted to win Monday morning for what it stood for.
But it didn’t quite happen that way. There was no perfect ending. For as hard as the Red Sox tried to come back from a 6-0 deficit, they fell short, 7-6, to the Baltimore Orioles, splitting the four-game series and dropping to 9-11.
“It wasn’t because we didn’t try hard,” said catcher David Ross, whose seventh-inning solo homer was part of the comeback effort. “We battled right down to the last pitch. Our bullpen did a great job keeping us in the game and we chipped away.”
The Fenway crowd was distracted by the worldly events on the outside. American Meb Keflezighi won the Boston Marathon, which drew a huge ovation inside the ballpark. It was a pristine day weather-wise and win or lose it had that “there’s no place I’d rather be” atmosphere that seemed to outweigh the outcome.
“We wanted to win this,” said left fielder Jonny Gomes. “We played with heavy hearts, but what we all have to understand is that this was a big AL East battle, and that team wanted it as much as we did. I think what I like about this team is that we battle all the way. We play all 27 outs.”
The Red Sox have played in cold weather, different time zones, morning, afternoon, and night games, but they will get into a routine, starting Tuesday at 7 p.m. against the first-place New York Yankees.
Will a normal schedule help following their helter-skelter start?
The Red Sox, who have played from behind a lot this season, were never able to overcome the six runs on seven hits Clay Buchholz allowed over 2⅓ innings. The Orioles scored all six of those runs in the third inning, starting with five consecutive singles (Steve Lombardozzi, David Lough, Nick Markakis, Nelson Cruz, and Chris Davis) producing the first three runs.
“[Buchholz] was a little bit flat,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “Couldn’t seem to stop the momentum in that third inning. We get behind by those six runs and we did a great job of coming back. The bullpen did an outstanding job once again. But the six-run deficit in that third inning proved the difference.’’
Buchholz, who spent the night sleeping at the ballpark along with Mike Napoli and John Lackey, secured one out on Adam Jones’s force at second base, but the play brought home the Orioles’ fourth run.
After an RBI double by Steve Clevenger, rookie Jonathan Schoop knocked in the sixth run with a single to left, and Buchholz’s afternoon was over.
“It seems like we pitch well one night and don’t hit the next and don’t pitch and then we hit. We’re not hitting on all cylinders,” Gomes said.
“Playing catch-up in the big leagues is pretty tough. We’ve done a good job getting starters out of games, but we expect to do a better job to finish it out. It’s always helpful to take that pressure off of your starting pitcher and not make him feel like he has to throw up a zero.
“When you score six runs against an AL team, that’s not bad, but find a way to score one more run.”
In the Red Sox’ 20 games this season, 12 have been decided by two runs or fewer, and they are 2-5 in one-run games. They are ranked 30th in first-inning scoring with two runs. Last season, they were second in first-inning runs with 106.
Burke Badenhop followed Buchholz, got Ryan Flaherty to hit into an inning-ending double play, then pitched three more scoreless innings to keep the Red Sox in the game.
The Sox scored three times in the fifth. Jackie Bradley Jr. hit an RBI ground-rule double, Brock Holt hit a sacrifice fly, and Dustin Pedroia hit another RBI double.
After Napoli’s leadoff homer in the eighth made it 7-5, the Red Sox threatened to tie the game. Xander Bogaerts and Daniel Nava singled with one out, but Jonathan Herrera struck out into a double play when Bogaerts got caught between second and third on a botched double steal.
Farrell said there was no missed sign.
“I think there was a little hesitation on Bogey’s part,” Farrell said. “We were putting runners in motion because of the trust in Herrera to put the ball on the ground. Felt like, with that part of the order, we were trying to create something, force their defense to make a play by putting guys in motion, trying to open up a hole, as well. Foul tip into the glove and then [Bogaerts] kind of got caught out in no-man’s land.”
In the ninth, the Red Sox loaded the bases off righty Tommy Hunter. Holt (2 for 4) continued to contribute by reaching on an infield hit with one out, Pedroia doubled high off the wall, and David Ortiz was walked intentionally.
Up came Napoli, who had homered in the eighth but also had struck out twice and grounded out. Hunter was coming in with 96-97-mile-per-hour fastballs, but he threw Napoli a cutter and got him to roll out to second base, scoring Holt with the sixth Red Sox run.
“I was just trying to get on base,” Napoli said. “It was a special day and we knew it. The last thing I expected was a cutter in that situation. I was just trying to stay short to the ball with my swing and get a pitch I could handle.’’
Mike Carp hit for Gomes with runners on second and third and ended the game with a ground out to first base.
“[Playing from behind] takes some added energy,” said Farrell. “And while the body of work by our staff has been I think very good, we’ve had a number of games where it’s been one run, two runs, today obviously six. We’d certainly like to get the offense going a little bit earlier rather than having to dig out of a hole.”Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.