The infield was firmer than normal, and Brock Holt knew it as soon as he chopped a 2-and-1 fastball from Cleveland Indians reliever Scott Atchison into the dirt in front of home plate.
The Red Sox had worked three walks to load the bases with the game tied at 2 in the ninth inning. There were two outs when Holt came to the plate. He was trying get the winning run across any way he could.
His chop made a rainbow over Atchison, but second baseman Jason Kipnis gloved it and whipped it to first. The race between Holt and the ball was the difference between the Sox earning their fifth walkoff win of the season or going to extra innings.
“Just trying to get to first base to win the game,” Holt said.
Holt all but hurtled himself at the bag, trying to get his foot down before the ball got there. He tumbled over the bag and slid face first into the dirt up the line. He didn’t even bother picking himself up to check first base umpire Eric Cooper’s call.
“I was out,” Holt said. “It was closer than I thought it was going to be, but yeah, he got me.”
With yet another crucial run eluding the Sox at another crucial moment, Holt got to his knees and banged his helmet into the dirt.
“I just tried to get down the line as quick as possible and Kipnis made a good play,” Holt said.
Two innings later, a Sox team starving for a big hit watched the Indians come up with it. Nick Swisher blasted a 2-and-1 fastball from Junichi Tazawa down the right-field line for the home run that decided the Indians’ 3-2 win.
The Sox absorbed their 15th one-run loss in a season that’s felt like an ongoing game of hide and seek with the big hit.
“We had opportunities,” manager John Farrell said. “We walked the bases loaded in the ninth and a base hit away or a swing away from ending it right there. It’s been elusive. I can’t say that we changed our approach. One through nine it’s not like we’re going about it differently. But it’s been elusive.”
Between six hits and seven walks, the Sox put 13 runners on base, and stranded eight of them.
“That’s kind of been the theme,” Holt said. “We’re getting guys on but we’re not getting them in. We’ll get there eventually. Someone’s going to come up and we’re going to get big hit after big hit. You’ve just got to keep grinding and come ready to play tomorrow.”
With a suspension still looming over him for hitting Rays third baseman Evan Longoria earlier this month, Brandon Workman pitched six-plus strong innings. He matched his career high with 103 pitches, and fanned seven.
In the first inning, Michael Brantley tagged him for a two-out homer just inside the Pesky Pole, giving the Indians a 1-0 lead.
“It wasn’t a bad pitch, we were going cutter in,” Workman said. “I probably caught a little bit too much plate with it. But it wasn’t a bad pitch, it was just a better piece of hitting by a pretty good hitter.”
Workman then set down the next eight batters he faced.
The Sox quickly got the run back when David Ortiz smacked an RBI single off the Wall to score Holt, who led off the first with a single.
The Sox took the lead in the fifth on a hard-nosed play by Holt, who slid into second to break up a double play on Dustin Pedroia’s ground ball to shortstop, allowing Jackie Bradley Jr. to score.
Workman didn’t run into trouble again until the seventh, when he walked David Murphy leading off, then gave up a single to Carlos Santana to make it first and third with no outs.
At that point, Farrell went to his bullpen for Burke Badenhop, who had a 28⅓-inning scoreless streak going back 24 games, and hadn’t allowed an inherited runner to score in his last six appearances.
But Yan Gomes drove Badenhop’s first pitch to left field for a sacrifice fly that pushed across the tying run. And for the second straight game, Tazawa came in with the score tied but couldn’t keep it that way.
After walking in the go-ahead run on Saturday, he gave up just his third home run of the season on Sunday.
Swisher was 0 for 4 to that point, and it gave Tazawa reason to believe he could test him with a fastball up and in. But he paid for it.
“Obviously, [Swisher] has that capability,” Farrell said. “But we’re challenging him given his four previous at-bats on the day and maybe some of the inconsistencies he’s had on the season, and got beat on it.”
But seeing the seven times they came up empty in eight at-bats with runners in scoring position left the Sox trying to answer the same question that’s had them scratching their heads all season: When will all the base runners consistently start turning into runs?
“Maybe pressing a little just because someone wants to get it,” Holt said. “We want to get that big hit and win a game because of it. Our whole offense right now, we’re all up there and we’re trying to get the job done and do what we’re capable of doing. We’re just not getting it done right now. But our offense is top to bottom pretty dang good. So, it’s just a matter of time before we get out of it.’’Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.