The intent was hard to argue with.
A.J. Pierzynski took the first pitch he saw from Cubs starter Edwin Jackson and bounced it off the Foxwoods logo on the Green Monster.
It was the second inning. There weren’t any runs on the board. The Red Sox had been waiting practically all season for runs to start flooding in.
Pierzynski wanted to put himself in a position to make that happen.
He watched the ball scream toward the Wall, and the whole time he sprinted to first he was thinking two bases.
“Trying to get in scoring position,” Pierzynski said. “That’s it.”
While he was making his turn at first, Cubs left fielder Chris Coghlan grabbed the ball with his bare hand on one hop, then in the same motion fired a laser to second base.
By the time Pierzynski made it to second, the ball was already waiting on him like it had made reservations.
Pierzynski didn’t even bother sliding. All he could do was sigh and shake his head on the way back to the dugout. In left field, Coghlan flashed a small smirk.
From the Sox dugout, manager John Farrell could understand Pierzynski’s aggressiveness.
“A.J.’s trying to stretch a single into a double,” Farrell said. “Probably a little overaggressive on his part. Coghlan makes a good play off the wall and throws a strike into second base.”
But with as scarce as runs have been, the Sox found ways to run themselves out of innings Tuesday night, spoiling a strong outing by Clay Buchholz (who was making just his second start since coming off the disabled list), and they ate yet another bitter, one-run loss, 2-1, to the Cubs.
Farrell recited the symptoms of the loss so many times this season, it’s almost become automatic. “Left on base. Runners in scoring position,” he said.
Between eight hits and five walks, the Sox had more than their share of baserunners.
But early on, mistakes on the basepaths blew holes in innings.
Two batters after Pierzynski was thrown out, Mookie Betts came to the plate with two outs, Mike Napoli on third, and Stephen Drew on first.
When Jackson started Betts with a first-pitch fastball, Drew decided to break for second. Then he re-thought it.
But by the time he retreated for first, it was too late. Cubs catcher Welington Castillo snapped the throw to first to cut Drew down, ending the inning.
“We tried to get a little early motion with Stephen to see what their coverage was and a little bit too aggressive and ends up in kind of no-man’s land,” Farrell said.
The Sox still managed to jump ahead in the fifth inning, stringing together three straight two-out hits.
Jackie Bradley Jr. laced a double to center field, Brock Holt followed with a single to left, and Dustin Pedroia cashed in with an RBI single to left.
But they came out of the frame counting the runs they left on the bases.
With two outs and the bases full, Napoli shot a ground ball up the middle that had base hit written all over it until shortstop Starlin Castro ranged to the outfield grass to snag it, then made a gorgeous backhand flip to Darwin Barney at second to get the force out.
The web gem was the difference between the Sox tacking on runs to their lead and leaving the bases loaded.
“We had created a number of opportunities tonight, particularly in the fifth inning after we put a run on the board and Castro makes a heck of a play up the middle to shut down the final out in the inning,” Farrell said.
Meanwhile, Buchholz was piecing together his best start since April, throwing 6⅓ innings of one-run ball.
He gave up just five hits, threw 61 of his 100 pitches for strikes, and got nine swinging misses.
His secondary pitches were sharp; 13 of his 15 curveballs and nine of his 15 changeups went for strikes.
After giving up a single to Coghlan to start the game and hitting Anthony Rizzo two batters later, Buchholz retired the next 13 batters.
The only run he allowed came in the sixth, when Justin Ruggiano scored on a ground ball by Coghlan that hit off Pedroia’s glove and went directly to Drew covering second for a run-scoring force out.
But when Buchholz left the mound in the seventh, the game was still in the balance.
Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa built a bridge to the ninth with 1⅔ scoreless innings, but Koji Uehara couldn’t keep the Cubs off the board.
First, Rizzo tagged him for a single. Then Castro shot a deep fly ball to left field for a double that gave the Cubs two runners in scoring position. When Luis Valbuena launched a fly ball to right field, Betts tried to gun Rizzo down at the plate.
But his throw was well up the third base line, and Rizzo scored the deciding run.
It broke up a stretch of three straight scoreless appearances for Uehara and the closer was hung with his second loss of the season.
After making 14 appearances in June, Uehara said fatigue was a factor.
“I probably need to get younger,” he joked.
But the Sox were left scrambling for a run that’s been elusive all year.
Only the Pirates have played more one-run games than the Red Sox’ 32. Of the Sox’ past 17 games, 11 have been decided by one run.
Their 18 one-run losses lead the American League (the Mets lead the majors with 19).
“It gets a little frustrating at times, particularly with the number of opportunities we continue to create,” said Farrell.
As trying as it’s been to watch the offense stall out, Farrell continues to tilt the glass to see it as half full.
“That’s the thing that we have to continue to focus on internally,” Farrell said. “Is that the opportunities are there and at times we’re not cashing in.