The bases were loaded with fool’s gold.
After Mookie Betts ripped a one-out single to right field and Brock Holt squeezed out an eight-pitch walk with two outs, the possibility of the Red Sox coming from behind in the ninth inning to steal a win on Sunday afternoon in the last game of a cruelly unsuccessful homestand was thin, but it was there.
Dustin Pedroia came to the plate, representing the winning run with the Sox in an 8-6 hole to the Mariners.
Then the baseball gods started dangling the bait.
Mariners closer Fernando Rodney, for whatever the reason, became increasingly bothered by the base runners, stepping off the rubber and staring at them like it was a game of red light/green light.
He had reason to be worried. The first pitch he threw to Pedroia bounced in the dirt, and Betts and Holt moved up.
Two pitches later, Rodney sailed a pitch to the backstop.
For a second, Betts thought about making a break for home. But the ball bounced hard off the backstop and right back to catcher Mike Zunino.
Betts didn’t risk it.
Pedroia ended up working a walk to load the bases, but circumstances weren’t on the Sox’ side. Normally, David Ortiz would have walked to the plate after Pedroia, but he had fouled a ball off his right foot in the fourth inning and was later replaced by Kelly Johnson.
Johnson had doubled in the eighth inning, but the void was obvious.
“Any time you lose David Ortiz out of your lineup, it’s a hole,” said manager John Farrell. “That’s not to take anything away from Kelly Johnson, who doubled in his first at-bat, but we’d like to have David up at the plate more often than the four or five times at the plate to begin with. So, yeah, it’s someone that we miss, who’s been a main cog in our offense daily and year to date, so hopefully this is just a short-lived loss in the lineup for him.”
With the bases loaded, two outs, and a chance to make the homestand a little less frustrating, Johnson got ahead in the count, 2 and 0, then struck out swinging three pitches later.
Rodney shot an imaginary arrow in the air, the Sox suffered their eighth straight loss (all at Fenway), 8-6, and the Mariners left with their first sweep of a three- or four-game series in Boston in franchise history.
After squandering three-run leads in each of the first two games of the series, the Sox fell behind by three runs in the first inning on Sunday.
Facing the Mariners for the second time in his career, Allen Webster gave up six runs on eight hits in 4⅓ innings, and the Mariners got to work on him early, roughing him up for five hits and three runs in the first.
Austin Jackson’s check-swing single to lead off the game was the start of Webster’s troubles. Dustin Ackley followed with a double to left.
After a fielder’s choice and with runners on first and third with one out, Kendrys Morales ripped a single to right field to put the Mariners on the board. Kyle Seager poked a single down the third base line that kicked off the wall in foul territory and scored Robinson Cano. Logan Morrison followed with another single to give the Mariners 3-0 lead.
“They came out and [Webster] gave up some quirky base hits,” Farrell said.
The Sox pushed back, hanging up three runs in the bottom of the inning. Yoenis Cespedes drove in his 85th run of the season with a hot shot past Seager at third that easily scored Holt, who was running on contact, to give the Sox their first run.
Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma entered the game on a 17⅔-inning scoreless streak, but this would not be his day.
He got himself into further trouble after Cespedes’s single when he hit both Mike Napoli and Allen Craig with pitches, loading the bases. Will Middlebrooks then found a hole in the right side of the infield with a ground ball that brought Cespedes and Napoli home.
The Sox took the lead in the third when Ortiz worked a leadoff walk and Cespedes doubled off the Monster to make it second and third with no outs. Ortiz scored the go-ahead run when Napoli grounded out.
Craig singled to shortstop to make it first and third for Middlebrooks, who laced a line drive into the left-field corner for a double that put the Sox up, 5-3.
Iwakuma lasted just 2⅓ innings, giving up five runs, the most he’s allowed since the Sox tagged him for five on June 25.
“More than anything we didn’t expand the strike zone low,” Farrell said. “He’s such a good low-ball pitcher, he’s got downward action to the most heavy pitch that he does throw, and we laid off balls at the bottom of the strike zone where maybe some other teams haven’t.”
But the Mariners’ offense bailed him out. Webster walked Seager on four pitches to lead off the fourth and paid for it when Morrison ripped a line drive that bounced into the right-field stands for a ground-rule double, and Chris Denorfia shot a sacrifice fly to right to cut the Sox’ lead to 5-4.
The next inning, Webster gave up a leadoff single to Jackson, and Ackley shot a fly ball to deep center, legging out a triple while Betts chased it down in the triangle.
With no outs, Brad Miller hit a sacrifice fly to right field that scored Ackley to make it 6-5.
The Mariners padded the lead in the eighth with Seager’s RBI single to center making it a two-run game, but the Sox trimmed it to 7-6 on Johnson’s RBI double to center.
The Sox had more hits with runners in scoring position in one day (6 for 18) than they had in their last seven (4 for 57), yet still ended up on the wrong side of a seesaw game.
“The thing that we continued to stress is the unanswered runs,” Farrell said. “When we score, the ability to put up a zero is key, and for us to snap out of where were are, it’s going to come from more consistency on the mound.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @julianbenbow.