The bottom of the eighth inning was the game.
If the Red Sox were going to win the opener of this three-game weekend series against the Milwaukee Brewers at Fenway Park, they had to do it in that frame.
With two on and one out, the Red Sox had the heart of their order due up against Brewers righthanded reliever Devin Williams. Xander Bogaerts, who hit a go-ahead three-run homer in Thursday’s win against the Guardians, came to the plate with the Sox trailing, 2-1, and a chance to make some noise yet again.
Bogaerts, though, never came close to making contact on any of Williams’s devastating changeups. He swung and missed at all three, the third and final one coming on a 3-2 count that dropped him to one knee in defeat.
J.D. Martinez followed Bogaerts languishing in an 0-for-19 slump. It became 0 for 20 when Martinez grounded into the dirt at short, leading to a force out of Jarren Duran at second base that extinguished the inning. It left the Red Sox to lament the scoring opportunities lost in a 4-1 setback that dropped them below .500 at 50-51 and 2-6 on this homestand.
The Sox had a similar scenario play out in the seventh inning, having two on and one out. Jackie Bradley Jr. swung through a 3-1 changeup from Brad Boxberger that was ball four, and then swung through a 3-2 changeup to strike out. Yolmer Sanchez then lined out softly to Adames at shortstop.
“Just frustrating because we put good at-bats and we had runners out there,” manger Alex Cora said afterward. “And we haven’t done a good job with men in scoring position for like a month and a half.”
The Sox did get a quality outing from Brayan Bello.
For the first time in Bello’s young big league career, you could see the electric stuff come into focus for the hard-throwing righthander.
The Red Sox went with the opener strategy against the Brewers, flipping around the matchups in order to give Bello, who had a 10.50 ERA in his first three starts against stiff competition, his best chance for success.
After Austin Davis threw 2 ⅓ innings of scoreless one-hit ball as the Sox’ opener, Bello took over with one out in the third inning.
Bello hit the first batter he faced in Tyrone Taylor, but flashed his changeup on a 2-2 pitch to Christian Yelich, getting the Brewers left fielder to swing through it for the second out of the frame. Adames grounded out to end the inning.
Bello got into groove in the fourth inning, more so than in any other outing Red Sox fans have seen from him.
Bello started Andrew McCutchen off with a slider that nipped the plate, low and inside. Then, Bello went sinker in for the second strike. On a 1-2 count, Bello went back to his sinker after missing with a changeup, spotting it on the outside part of the plate for strike three.
Bello recorded the second out after Hunter Renfroe weakly topped a grounder to Franchy Cordero at first. Bello then got Rowdy Tellez to strike out on a high four-seam fastball at the top of the zone to end the inning.
The young righthander went 4⅓ innings, striking out four while yielding two runs on four hits.
“It was mostly I was just attacking hitters. I went in there, knew I had to attack, attack, attack. That’s what I kept doing,” Bello said, through an interpreter.
The top of the sixth had some misfortune tied to it. Yelich doubled to shallow left, beating the shift of Red Sox third baseman Bobby Dalbec. Adames then hit an infield single and beat out the toss to first. Then, McCutchen tapped an RBI ground out to third, allowing Yelich to score to give the Brewers a 1-0 lead.
For the second night in a row, the Sox had no answers offensively, going five innings with just one hit against Brewers righthanded starter Brandon Woodruff, who handcuffed the Sox with nine strikeouts over 6⅓ innings of work.
The Sox started a two-out rally, however, against Woodruff in the sixth inning when Christian Vázquez and Alex Verdugo delivered back-to-back doubles with Verdugo’s two-bagger off the wall in left, scoring Vázquez with a tying run that tied the game, 1-1.
“It was the first time I faced him,” said Vázquez, who had two of the Sox’ four hits off Woodruff. “He had a very hard fastball, and it was heavy. He was mixing his stuff very good.”
Hirokazu Sawamura surrendered two runs (both earned) in the ninth, putting the game out of reach. The Sox are now 4-16 in their last 20 games.
The root cause of this setback tracked to those squandered chances in the seventh and eighth innings.
“[The Brewers’] stuff is really good but we’ve got to find a way in those situations,” Cora said.