OAKLAND, Calif. — The season is not quite halfway over and the Red Sox are playing with an October sense of desperation. But even that could not help them Saturday.
A bold dash to the plate by Dustin Pedroia gave the Sox life in the eighth inning. But that was snatched away in the 10th inning when an unconventional move by manager John Farrell backfired and led to a 2-1 loss to the Oakland Athletics.
With a runner on second base and one out, Farrell took Edward Mujica out of the game and went to reliable closer Koji Uehara.
“Looking to do anything we could to put up another zero,” Farrell said.
Uehara had come into the middle of an inning only once previously this season, on April 26. Uehara survived that day despite giving up a run on three hits. This time his first pitch was a high fastball that Coco Crisp pulled into right field for a single.
Alberto Callaspo scored and the Red Sox had lost another one-run game, the 17th already this season.
“Get lucky,” said Crisp when asked what his plan was against Uehara. “It was probably not my best swing all day. But it worked out.”
After sweeping a three-game series against the Minnesota Twins at home the 34-41 Red Sox have lost the first three games against the Athletics to start a 10-game road trip.
Jon Lester starts Sunday afternoon knowing perhaps only a shutout will be good enough given the hopeless state of the offense.
The Red Sox have scored 15 runs in their last eight games while hitting .211. They have four hits in their last 48 at-bats with runners in scoring position after going 0 for 6 on Saturday.
The Sox have scored one run in their last 15 innings. They have not had an extra-base hit since Thursday.
“The left on base is what it is,” Farrell said. “We’ve got to continue to believe in our guys and put forth the same approach and effort that we do.”
Yet it was Farrell who raised the point before the game that Triple A outfielder Mookie Betts appears deserving of a call-up, a not-so-subtle plea for the front office to do something about an offense that has scored two or fewer runs 27 times.
“We’re in a funk right now,” said Brock Holt, who had three of the team’s seven hits Saturday. “We get chances and we can’t score. Nothing seems to work.”
Down, 1-0, in the eighth inning, the Red Sox were fortunate in several ways to tie the game against reliever Luke Gregerson.
Holt singled with one out before Pedroia grounded slowly to shortstop. Holt was forced at second but the Athletics could not complete the double play.
David Ortiz followed with a bloop single to center and Pedroia went to third.
Mike Napoli appeared to strike out swinging at a low slider, but immediately signaled that he tipped the ball. Replays showed that even if Napoli did make contact, catcher Stephen Vogt backhanded the ball cleanly. But such plays are not subject to the new appeal rules.
The umpires conferred and after a discussion allowed Napoli to stay at the plate.
“This type of play happens quite often actually, it’s a difficult call for us. And, in order to change it, we have to be positive,” crew chief Gerry Davis said.
Gregerson’s next pitch was in the dirt and deflected off Vogt a few feet in front of the plate. Pedroia took off and scored.
“You’ve got to try to make something happen,” Pedroia said.
Oakland manager Bob Melvin was ejected by plate umpire Quinn Wolcott for complaining after Napoli’s fly ball ended the inning.
The Sox threatened in the 10th against Dan Otero as Jackie Bradley Jr. and Holt singled with one out. But Pedroia flied to right and Ortiz struck out.
They had two runners on in the sixth before Ortiz grounded into a double play and Napoli struck out.
Red Sox starter Rubby De La Rosa was outstanding for seven innings, allowing one run on four hits. He walked one and struck out seven.
De La Rosa retired the first six Oakland hitters before Vogt tripled off the wall in right-center, just missing a home run. The ball came off the wall and bounced over the head of Bradley, allowing Vogt to take third just ahead of a strong throw.
Callaspo followed with line drive to right field that Holt caught on a dive. It went for a sacrifice fly. Saturday was the 12th game Holt has played in the outfield and his instincts have been those of a veteran.
Oakland did not come close to scoring again against De La Rosa, who dropped his earned run average to 2.51 in five starts.
“I’ve learned a lot, 100 percent,” he said. “How to use my pitches, what counts, what kind of hitter. That’s helped me learn about the situation. I feel confident.”
De La Rosa has allowed one run on five hits over 14 innings in his last two starts, but could get squeezed off the roster when Clay Buchholz comes off the disabled list next week.
“Nobody has said anything to me,” De La Rosa said. “All I can do is pitch.”
Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa handled the eighth and ninth innings. To that point, Vogt was the only Oakland runner who had advanced beyond first.
That changed in the 10th when Mujica (2-3) walked Callaspo and Nick Punto bunted the runner over. One pitch later, the Red Sox were done.
Farrell was left making a prediction that sounded more like wishful thinking given the state of his team.
“Honestly, I look at it like this: We are very close to becoming a team that will go on a run for an extended period,” he said. “We’ve got a number of really strong things in place. That is pitching, both in terms of our rotation, our bullpen. I think we’re playing very good defense. We’ve had situations get away from us as far as men in scoring position.
“We’re close in a number of ways.”Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.