TORONTO — In the education of a young ballplayer, Saturday was a painful lesson for Red Sox center fielder Ceddanne Rafaela.
With two outs, a runner on second base, and his team holding a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Blue Jays, Rafaela broke in four steps to catch a line drive off the bat of Daulton Varsho only to see the ball sail over his head.
The tying run scored on what was ruled a triple in a game the Sox went on to lose, 4-3, in 13 innings.
Instead of a satisfying victory in front of a sellout crowd against a team fighting for a playoff spot, the Sox took their third consecutive loss.
At 74-75, they are under .500 for the first time since June 30.
Rafaela, who turns 23 on Monday, tore through two levels of the minor leagues this season and made his debut in late August. He has built a reputation as an excellent defender, the rare player who can handle center field and shortstop.
The Sox coaches were interested to see how Rafaela would handle what for him was a rare flub in the field.
“I just missed it. I misread it,” he said. “It was right in front of me. There’s no excuses.”
Manager Alex Cora felt the same way.
“We expect him to make that play,” he said. “He expects himself to make that play. You learn from it.”
Rafaela owned his mistake but there were plenty of others to go around. The Sox were held to five hits — one after the seventh inning — and were 2 for 15 with runners in scoring position.
Unfathomably, the Sox are 5 for 57 (.088) with runners at second or third the last six games.
After Rafael Devers cracked a two-run homer in the sixth inning, the Jays gave him the David Ortiz treatment with two intentional walks in extra innings.
“We’ve got to figure this out, hitting with men in scoring position. We’ve got to be better,” Cora said.
Pablo Reyes gave the Sox a 3-2 lead in the 12th inning with a single off Jordan Hicks. Alex Verdugo scored from second.
Zack Weiss, a journeyman claimed off waivers last month, allowed the tying run in the bottom of the inning on a sacrifice fly by Bo Bichette.
With Mauricio Llovera pitching in the 13th, Rafaela made a diving catch to rob Davis Schneider of a game-winning hit. A groundout moved Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to third.
Whit Merrfield then chopped a pitch that took a high bounce off the artificial turf and rolled to the left side of the mound. Devers had no play as Guerrero scored.
It was the longest game for the Sox since a 15-inning loss against the Giants on Sept. 17, 2019, at Fenway Park.
The series finale is Sunday afternoon with Nick Pivetta facing Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Like Rafaela, Chris Sale also will remember this game. But for a much different reason.
The lefthander pitched into the seventh inning for the first time since May 20 despite not breaking 94 miles per hour with his fastball. He struck out 10, walked two, and allowed one run on two hits.
Both Sale and Cora thought it was his best start of the season as far as command and location of his pitches.
Sale once overwhelmed hitters with velocity and a slider that appeared controlled by a joystick. Injuries and age have diminished his fastball and now he must be more precise.
“Excellent,” Cora said. “That’s what I told him, I said today is a big step for us because we know the 97, 98 won’t be there all the time. This one he was able to pitch.”
Catcher Connor Wong said Sale changed speeds with his slider — which was unusual — and threw his fastball to spots whenever he needed to.
“Had a good one today,” Sale said. “That’s a tough lineup. Definitely one to build on … a step in the right direction.”
Sale took a shutout into the seventh. That ended when Guerrero came back from an 0-and-2 count to drive a slider over the fence in left field for his 24th homer.
Sale had walked Guerrero his previous two times up.
Cora came to the mound and Sale was lifted after a brief discussion. Josh Winckowski walked Santiago Espinal and Merrifield with one out then walked Alejandro Kirk with two outs to load the bases.
Brennan Bernardino was summoned and needed two pitches to get pinch hitter Ernie Clement to pop up and preserve the lead.
Chris Martin found trouble in the eighth inning. Bichette singled and went to third on a single by Guerrero. Schneider followed with a line drive to right field that Verdugo caught and fired to the plate.
Bichette was 30 feet down the line and couldn’t get back in time to tag up. Martin then struck out Espinal and let out a yell as he returned to the dugout.
John Schreiber seemed to have the save wrapped up in the ninth until Rafaela’s misread.
“I’ll learn from it,” Rafaela said.