It was the cruelest form of fools gold.
The Red Sox had worked meticulously to load the bases. Dustin Pedroia laced a line drive off the Wall and instead of trying to squeeze an extra base, he held up at first, knowing the Sox needed base runners — not just because they were trailing, 4-1, but because scoring chances had been slim the previous two nights against the Tigers.
Shane Victorino then skipped a ground ball through the right side of the infield and with Pedroia going on the pitch, it sneaked through for a single.
After Victorino stole second, Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez issued an intentional walk to David Ortiz to load the bases.
Then, when Mike Napoli bounced a soft ground ball down the third base line to Don Kelly, the Red Sox caught a break.
Instead of conceding the run for an out, Kelly went to the plate to try to get Pedroia. His throw short-hopped catcher Alex Avila, who didn’t realize the ball was in his glove. In the process of turning to look for it, Avila ended up dropping it.
Pedroia slid in safe. The Sox had cut the deficit to 4-2 and the bases were still loaded with only one out. It looked like the Red Sox would finally cash in big after being muzzled by the Tigers all weekend.
Before they could blink twice, the scoring threat was dead.
Grady Sizemore sent the first pitch he saw howling back at the mound. Sanchez gloved it on reflex and, with Victorino dangling off third base, Sanchez fired over to Kelly to double up Victorino.
Like that, the threat was over.
All Victorino could do was stare down at the third base bag like it had somehow betrayed him.
“It took away any momentum we were able to generate,” Sox manager John Farrell said.
It was as if the few scoring opportunities the Red Sox saw over three straight losses to the Tigers — the sixth inning murdered by a double play on Friday, the fourth inning murdered by a double play on Saturday — were staring back at him. In three games, the Sox left 18 runners on base.
“I can’t say we’re hitting into bad luck,” Farrell said. “We’re still looking for a key base hit with runners in scoring position, and I know that’s a recurring theme and it certainly took place in this series. Inopportune moment.”
The Tigers left Fenway with a 6-2 win, their first series win at Fenway since 2006 and their first sweep at Fenway since 1983. A year after falling to the Sox in the American League Championship Series, the Tigers own the best record in baseball (27-12), having strung together six straight wins.
“They’re very good,” Farrell said. “There doesn’t appear to be a weak link. Their bullpen pitched outstanding. Their defense overall played very well. Starting rotation was strong. And as well as the top half of that lineup is swinging the bat right now, they’re a very good team.”
In his first start since going on the disabled list April 26 with a blister on his right (throwing) hand, Sanchez threw five innings, giving up two runs on five hits.
The Tigers wanted to be cautious after a three-week layoff, holding him to just 80 pitches.
His counterpart, Jake Peavy, was looking to bounce back from his worst start of the season (a 4⅓-inning shelling in Minnesota last week).
He went six innings, but they were more troublesome than he would have liked.
After getting an early lift on an RBI single from Xander Bogaerts in the second, Peavy gave it back in the third.
Ian Kinsler tagged him for a one-out double, Miguel Cabrera followed two batters later with a run-scoring single that scooted through the left side of the infield with Kinsler on the move.
In the next at-bat, Victor Martinez launched a 1-and-2 changeup into the Red Sox bullpen to put the Tigers up, 3-1.
The blast gave Martinez more homers (10) than strikeouts (9) for the season.
“Victor Martinez is a good player,” Peavy said. “He got a ball on the outer half that he hit a long way. I felt like I made a really good pitch to Cabrera to try to save that run there. Just the ball was bouncing their way for sure.”
Cabrera, who drove in another run with a sacrifice fly in the fifth, went 3 for 4. Avila, who took a nasty foul tip to the groin, came through with an RBI single in the sixth.
Torii Hunter homered over the Monster in the seventh, nailing the Sox’s coffin shut.
The Sox were left with their first four-game losing streak since 2012. They’ll have an off day Monday to stew on it before the Toronto Blue Jays come in.
“We’ve got to regroup, we’ve got to be better in all phases,” Farrell said.
“As Toronto comes in here, and this is a team that’s playing well. So we’ve got to, collectively, we’ve got to be better all the way around.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.