TORONTO — You can’t squander a 3-0 lead like the Red Sox and Clay Buchholz did Wednesday night in a 6-4 loss to the Blue Jays and expect to win and expect to stay in contention.
You can’t do that at this time of the season, when winning series is a necessity, especially against the teams above you in the standings. These games are precious.
That wasn’t lost on David Ortiz, who put the Red Sox ahead, 3-0, in the first inning off former National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey with a 434-foot homer.
But Buchholz gave it all back in the bottom of the first.
This was a tough one to let slip away. Your slugger does what he’s supposed to do to put you in a comfortable position to do your job, and Buchholz couldn’t do it.
The Red Sox had a golden chance to rebound from a loss the night before that snapped their five-game winning streak.
The Red Sox actually went ahead, 4-3, in the fifth, but Buchholz gave it up again in the sixth. Ryan Goins’s triple scored Josh Thole to tie it, then Goins scored the go-ahead run on a throwing error by third baseman Xander Bogaerts.
We all knew the Red Sox weren’t going to win every game or keep up the eight-wins-in-nine-games streak they had going beginning before the All-Star break.
But now losing two in a row and in last place in the American League East, they have gone from being a team on which things were starting to break right to a team that looks as if it’s beating itself again.
Buchholz had given everyone hope with that splendid 12-strikeout complete game right before the break. He is precisely the pitcher who needs to give the Red Sox hope because of his talent.
But the consistency in his starts simply hasn’t been there all season. He flashes brilliance at times, then gives a pedestrian performance at times, as was Wednesday night’s, and he remains void of that killer instinct that the great ones have.
Buchholz simply hasn’t reached that elite place yet even though he’s had great stretches in his career. At age 29, the Red Sox are still waiting. And unfortunately they’re waiting when the best of Buchholz needs to come out. Yet, it didn’t.
Every time Buchholz pitches like this, it gives the Red Sox more food for thought concerning their contract negotiations with Jon Lester. Buchholz has not proven he can be the No. 1 pitcher on this team and be a leader.
“I couldn’t seem to find zone for a little bit,” he said of the first inning, when he allowed a leadoff single to Jose Reyes, walked Melky Cabrera, allowed an RBI double to left by Jose Bautista, and an RBI double by Thole.
“I didn’t have command of anything,” Buchholz added. “Lucky to get out of it not giving up more than I did. Felt like I settled down for a pretty good bit. Pitches started to come back slowly.”
We understand that no pitcher can be on all the time. Buchholz didn’t try to fail. He seems to have a genuine desire to do well and help the Red Sox win. It’s just that the timing was so bad.
The situation was so ripe for a Red Sox win because good beginnings in games have been something so elusive to the team this season. So when you get them you’ve got to find a way to shut down the opposition.
Buchholz hit No. 9 hitter Anthony Gose twice in successive at-bats. Gose stole a couple of bases before Christian Vazquez ended his run-a-thon by nailing him at third base in the fourth inning.
Buchholz also unfortunately had a Munenori Kawasaki hard-hit grounder come back and hit him off the temple in the first.
“As a pitcher, when a ball is hit back at you it feels like it’s coming back one thousand miles an hour or really slow,” Buchholz said. “I felt like I got my glove up and was falling away from it but it went over my glove and got me. It hit me in the temple. I knew it didn’t get me in the face. But it dazed me for sure. Once I got up and got my bearings straight, I felt fine.”
Buchholz said he was “jumping at the plate” with his delivery. He couldn’t calm himself down.
“That’s what causes pitches to miss,” he lamented. “Couldn’t seem to correct it. I’d do it right for a couple of hitters and fall back into it.”
Buchholz didn’t like the fact that he hit two batters and walked four. He had walked only one batter in his five previous starts.
“Walks will kill you because they find a way to score,” he said. “I was fortunate enough not to walk many guys in my last few starts. It hurts a little more knowing you’re the reason you have guys on base.
“I let that lead go. I’ll take the blame for this one, for sure.”
Buchholz knew this precious game slipped away because of him.
There were no pregame issues or problems during warm-ups. Buchholz simply came out to pitch the first completely out of synch. Manager John Farrell didn’t think Buchholz had any lack of focus or wasn’t prepared to start the game.
Farrell actually thought Buchholz kept the Red Sox in the game through the middle innings. He did settle down, but the whole game was a struggle for him. It seemed like he really had to show maximum effort to get to 93-94 miles per hour on the radar gun. He left some balls out over the plate.
And so the Red Sox have lost two out of three here after winning with a 14-run explosion on Monday.
The clubhouse was could-hear-a-pin-drop quiet after the game. Players showered and left quickly.
It didn’t leave anyone with a good feeling.
These games are precious.
And this one slipped away.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.