When Joel Hanrahan gave up a loud but harmless home run to Adam Jones in the Red Sox’ series and home opener against the Orioles, it hardly seemed like the hiccup that it was.
But when he took the mound Wednesday in the ninth inning with a chance to put a lid on a long and wet night, things unraveled eerily the same way.
This time the batter was the Orioles’ Chris Davis, the pitch was a 1-and-2 cutter, and the Sox’ lead was two runs.
Over a six-pitch at-bat, Davis found ways to spoil some of Hanrahan’s better pitches — hard sliders, harder cutters — until he finally got one that he could belt into the seats in straightaway center.
“That’s not how you want to start,” Hanrahan said.
On the way to an 8-5 loss, everything slowly crumbled from there.
He sat the next two batters down with a strikeout and a popup, but Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia had to make a quick trip to the mound after Hanrahan gave up a single to Ryan Flaherty.
Things got dicey when Alexi Casilla came on as a pinch runner and stole second as Saltamacchia’s throw sailed into center.
They got even hairier when Hanrahan walked Nolan Reimold, prompting a longer visit from pitching coach Juan Nieves.
At that point, Andrew Miller got the signal to warm up in the Sox bullpen.
For a second, it looked like he wouldn’t be needed.
Nate McLouth came to the plate looking for a battle, and worked the count full. Hanrahan fed him a fastball at the knees, a little inside. McLouth stared at it and walked.
“There were a couple pitches that could go either way,” Hanrahan said. “That’s the game. That’s why there’s an umpire back there. I didn’t come back from it. I’ve just got to throw better pitches.”
But at that point his focus was lost. With Manny Machado at the plate with the bases loaded, he wanted to throw a cutter and make Machado put it in play but it got away from him. The wild pitch allowed Casilla to score and tie the game.
“Probably tried to go a little too hard,” Hanrahan said. “Tried to make things happen with my arm instead of trusting my mechanics. Sometimes you get in a tight situation and you just try to go harder. As athletes we tell ourselves to slow down and relax. Sometimes it’s not that easy.”
The next pitch to Machado, a fastball, was supposed to be down and away, but it had a mind of its own, running back over the plate.
“You saw what he did with it,” Sox manager John Farrell said of Machado’s three-run homer.
After almost three hours that didn’t count the 43-minute rain delay, the crowd of 30,862 that officially ended the longest sellout streak in sports history had dwindled to more like 3,000. But after blowing his first save at Fenway, Hanrahan heard the remaining fans’ boos. Honestly, he said, he understood.
“I probably would’ve given the same reception too,” Hanrahan said. “They stuck through a rain delay. They stuck it out. To lose a game that way, that’s not fun and that’s not how you want your first two games at home to go but it’s game eight, so we’ve got a long season ahead of us.”
The Sox had looked to be in good shape in the sixth after Daniel Nava went deep for the third straight game and Saltalamacchia (3 for 4 with two RBIs) followed suit to make it 5-3.
“You’ve got your closer in the game and the ballgame locked up, it’s tough,” Saltalamcchia said. “But I still feel that Joel’s got some of the best stuff I’ve ever caught. It’s explosive out of his hand and even when he misses, they go by people. Tonight just wasn’t his night. But nine times out of 10 I guarantee you he closes the door and we’re going to count on that.”
The Sox’ bullpen was again strong with Koji Uehara throwing a perfect sixth, and Andrew Bailey again building a bridge for Hanrahan with a scoreless eighth.
But for the first time this season the back end faltered.
“I’ve been in his shoes and it’s not fun,” Bailey said. “But I know that he’s the ultimate professional and I know that he’s our guy. He’ll be back out there tomorrow and as soon as he leaves here tonight he’ll forget about it. You’ve got to turn the page.”
In his second start, the Sox’ Ryan Dempster was effective. Working his splitter for the most part to lefties and his slider by and large to righthanders, Dempster threw 60 strikes, starting off 16 of the 21 batters he faced with strikes and getting seven ground outs.
Still he left without a decision with the rain cutting his start short. Having been a closer, Dempster could empathize with Hanrahan.
“I’ve been there,” he said. “I’ve been in that same exact seat, so the easiest way to forget about today is to go out there and win tomorrow and win the series.”
With the Sox looking to open the season with wins in three straight series for the first time since 1952, Hanrahan knows the best remedy is a short memory.
“It’s not the first time I’ve blown a save and it’s probably not going to be the last,” he said. “That’s part of the game. That’s just how it goes sometimes.
“That’s the life of a reliever. One day you’re the goat, the next day you’re the hero. That’s how it goes, and I’ll come in here tomorrow ready to go.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.