From the crack of the bat, Will Middlebrooks knew he was going to burn it for third base.
He looked at the scoreboard and saw his Red Sox down, 3-2, in the 10th inning of a game in which runs had been scarce.
He took a look at the infield and saw A’s first baseman Daric Barton practically on the grass.
A’s center fielder Coco Crisp had allowed Middlebrooks to get into scoring position by letting Middlebrooks’s line-drive single bounce off his chest, enabling him to get to second.
“They gave us the gift of the extra 90 feet,” Sox manager John Farrell said.
But with no outs and the Sox desperately needing a run, Middlebrooks wanted to get closer.
“I’m trying to make something happen,” he said. “I’m trying to get over there, [make it] easier to drive me in.
The pop of the bat on Jackie Bradley’s ground ball to Barton at first was essentially the starter’s pistol.
“I was breaking off the bat,” Middlebrooks said. “I didn’t know if it was to his right, to his left, right at him.”
Middlebrooks was three strides toward third when he turned his head to check.
“It was right at him,” Middlebrooks said.
Barton quickly gobbled up Bradley’s bouncer and came up gunning.
He fired a strike to Josh Donaldson at third. Donaldson managed to make the tag in the middle of a mini car crash with Middlebrooks in front of the bag. Middlebrooks looked up to third base umpire D.J. Reyburn for the sign, which was that he was out. Donaldson came up limping on his left leg. Middlebrooks came up holding his left shoulder.
“Tough play,” Middlebrooks said. “Guy made a good play. Normally, you don’t see first basemen that far in. But the guy made a good play, hats off to him for that.”
After Dustin Pedroia grounded into a double play, the last of several Sox scoring chances had been snuffed out, the 3-2 final not letting Boston complete a series sweep.
With the A’s sending 24-year-old virtuoso Sonny Gray to the mound, the Red Sox went in knowing runs would be few and far between.
But in going 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position, they squandered chances they knew were precious.
Gray was able to pitch with an early lead after Brandon Moss came up with an RBI single in the first inning. He faced the minimum through the first four.
“It was tough,” Middlebrooks said. “I thought Sonny threw the ball really well. He’s all he’s hyped up to be. He threw four or five different pitches for strikes. He was good.”
Gray threw 60 of his 102 pitches for strikes, keeping the Sox in check with his fastball and his cutter. From what Bradley, who faced Vanderbilt’s Gray when Bradley was at South Carolina, remembered, he said, “Same old Gray. He’s got great stuff.”
For six innings, the only run the Sox could muster off Gray came on Grady Sizemore’s RBI double in the fifth.
“Their pitcher was really good,” said Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. “For as young as he is, to come in here and pitch the way he did, I mean, he’s pretty darn good.”
For six-plus innings, Sox starter John Lackey practically mirrored Gray. Gray gave up six hits, Lackey gave up five. Gray walked two, Lackey three. Gray struck out three, Lackey four.
“We knew this was going to be a low-scoring game with Gray out there for the A’s, and John did a great job,” Farrell said. “I know he would’ve liked to go deeper into the game, but that’s a pretty good start. He gave us a chance to win the game, and that’s what your starter’s supposed to do. He’s been throwing the ball great all year and it was a shame we couldn’t get him a win today.”
Pierzynski tagged the phenom for a home run (his first in 168 career at-bats at Fenway) leading off the seventh that tied it at 2.
From that point the Sox were trying to scratch out a run however they could.
With runners on second and third in the seventh, Farrell had Bradley drop down a safety squeeze. But Bradley sent it right back to the mound and Xander Bogaerts was forced to freeze at third. Mike Napoli, who was out of the starting lineup, was available to pinch hit, but with the way the wind was swirling in the outfield, Farrell said he wanted to keep Bradley on the field, so he went with the bunt call.
“We felt like with the running speed at third, if we get it to the right area it’s a very difficult play to defend,” Farrell said.
With the game still tied in the ninth, Farrell had Pierzynski drop a bunt to lead off the inning, but A’s catcher Derek Norris made the play.
The A’s managed to get to the Sox bullpen in the 10th, loading the bases with two outs on Chris Capuano. Burke Badenhop came in, and Yoenis Cespedes beat out a ground ball to Middlebrooks at third to score Jed Lowrie. At that point, the Sox were running out of ways to try to cobble together a run.
“This was a day in which we tried to manufacture a run to either tie it up or give us a one-run lead,” Farrell said.
The Sox again had been trying to reach .500 for the first time since April 4, when they were 2-2, but they couldn’t get over the hump.
They had their chances.
“We got opportunities, unfortunately we didn’t get the hit or the sac fly or whatever it is we needed,” Pierzynski said. “We had great at-bats and we had guys out there [on the bases]. That’s kind of all we’re looking for. You keep putting them out there, eventually you’re going to get a hit. Today we just didn’t.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.