TORONTO — How many more games the Red Sox win this season is largely inconsequential. Last place is last place. The only context that matters is how these final weeks affect the team for next season.
In that sense, there was much to be learned on Monday night when the Red Sox beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 4-3, in 10 innings.
Rookie shortstop Brock Holt again showed his value, putting himself in position to score the go-ahead run with an infield single and two stolen bases. Yoenis Cespedes drove him in with a sharp single off Aaron Sanchez as the Sox snapped an eight-game losing streak.
The manufactured run came after Holt was clubbed in the side of the head by an errant forearm from teammate Dustin Pedroia in the bottom of the ninth inning when the Sox were in the field.
“It’s kind of a confidence thing, base running,” Holt said. “The more you’re successful at it, the more confidence you feel. I’m not the fastest guy but I can run a little bit. You have to trust your speed and if you can take it, take it.”
For Cespedes it was his seventh RBI in the last six games. He is 9 for 28 (.321) with runners in scoring position in 22 games for the Sox since being acquired from Oakland. His presence in the lineup has been significant.
“It was not only important for me, it was important for the team,” Cespedes said via translator Adrian Lorenzo. “To be honest, I was a little uncomfortable [when Holt stole third]. It kind of threw me off a little bit. After that pitch, I took a step back and refocused myself.”
Craig Breslow was able to finish Toronto off for his first save since 2010.
Holt is hitting .290, and among qualified rookies his .733 OPS is second only to Jose Abreu of the White Sox.
“He has shown his dependability. He has shown his versatility defensively,” manager John Farrell said. “He’s hit good pitching; he’s hit lefthanders, righthanders. He has had an outstanding year in terms of taking advantage of an opportunity.”
For Holt, the remaining 31 games represent more chances to convince the Red Sox that he should have a prominent role in the rebuilding process. Every plate appearance and inning in the field has value.
For closer Koji Uehara, perhaps that time should be used to rest up after a job well done for two seasons.
Behind Clay Buchholz and home runs by Mookie Betts and Pedroia, the Sox took a 3-0 lead into the ninth inning. Buchholz was working on a two-hitter when Jose Reyes singled with one out.
Pedroia collided with Holt accidentally, giving the shortstop a forearm shiver. A trainer came out to check Holt for a concussion and he stayed in the game.
“Dustin is obviously 1-0 against me,” Holt said. “Other than that, I’m feeling good.”
Melky Cabrera was next and he squeezed a single through the shortstop hole into left field. Buchholz walked Jose Bautista on four pitches to load the bases.
With Buchholz at 103 pitches, Farrell went to Uehara.
Uehara’s first pitch produced a force out at second as a run scored. Edwin Encarnacion then blasted a high splitter off the fence in left to drive in two runs and tie the game.
Cespedes tracked the ball down but could not make a play on it.
“If I would have had a chance, I would have caught it,” he said.
Uehara got the final out to extend the game, but the blown save was his fourth.
In his last four outings, the 39-year-old righthander has allowed eight runs on 10 hits over 3⅓ innings.
Counting the postseason, Monday was the 145th time Uehara has pitched in the last two seasons and the burden is showing. His signature split-finger fastball, a pitch that dives to the bottom of the strike zone, now hangs over the plate.
“I’m sure [fatigue] is part of it. To say to what extent, that’s probably debatable,” Farrell said. “There’s no denying the number of appearances that he’s had over a very extended year last year and the number of appearances this year.”
Uehara denied overuse is an issue, saying it’s more location of his splitter.
“I’m not making the pitches that I need to,” he said via translator C.J. Matsumoto. “It’s nothing about fatigue. All I can say is I’m not finishing the pitch the way I want to.”
Uehara joked with reporters that he would take a vacation over the final month of the season if one were offered.
Perhaps such a notion should be taken seriously.
The Sox held on to Uehara at the trade deadline with the intent of re-signing him for 2015 to continue as their closer. Piling on unnecessary innings now runs counter to that purpose.
Would Farrell consider using Uehara sparingly, if at all, for the remainder of the season?
“Not at this point,” the manager said.
“What we’re being very conscious of [is] the frequency of the use. There’s nothing physical that’s a restriction for him . . . Wouldn’t rule it out, but at this point we haven’t considered shutting him down.”Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.