DETROIT — Red Sox manager John Farrell demonstrated his faith in embattled closer Andrew Bailey on Thursday night by sending him out to protect a one-run lead in the ninth inning against the Detroit Tigers.
Those days, temporarily at least, are over. Bailey didn’t get an out, walking Victor Martinez before Jhonny Peralta belted a home run to left field that sent the Sox to a crushing 4-3 loss.
The Red Sox clubhouse was pin-drop quiet after the game. They took a 3-2 lead in the eighth inning on a single by David Ortiz and were poised to win the opener of a four-game series between division leaders.
John Lackey had pitched seven strong innings and wanted to stay in, having thrown only 98 pitches. But Farrell went to Koji Uehara, and he retired the side in order in the eighth.
Bailey came out for the ninth inning. In two batters, the game was over.
“It’s hard, man,” Ortiz said. “But the hardest thing is to watch a guy like Bailey struggle. That guy has a lot of enthusiasm and he works hard. He goes out there with an attitude. It’s just hard to watch him like this.”
Bailey has blown three of his last five save chances, allowing seven runs on eight hits — four of them home runs — and five walks over four innings. Thirteen of the last 23 batters he has faced have reached base.
“Obviously, he’s snake-bit right now,” said Farrell, who agreed with the idea that a new closer is needed, if only to give Bailey a chance to regain his form by pitching in a lesser role.
Sox officials spoke after the game to discuss their options, and even Bailey seemed to understand what is coming.
“I haven’t talked to [Farrell] about that. If he feels that need is necessary, that’s his decision,” the righthander said. “I’ve got to go out there and get people out, that’s the bottom line. Whatever situation he wants that in is his call.
“I’ve had success in this league. I know how to get people out. I’ve got to get back to doing it.”
It was stunning how quickly Bailey unraveled this time. He walked Martinez on five pitches, missing badly four times.
“Any time there’s a save opportunity, it’s a cardinal rule. You can’t let the first guy reach base, let alone the tying run,” Bailey said. “Just not being myself out there.”
That has been a problem all season for Bailey. The first batter he faces has reached 11 of 24 times.
With Andrew Miller warming up, Bailey got ahead of Peralta, 0 and 2. He threw a fastball high that Peralta took. The next pitch was supposed to be a cut fastball in the dirt.
It was left up and over the plate, and Peralta didn’t miss it. As the ball sailed over the fence and the crowd of 36,939 rejoiced, left fielder Jonny Gomes put his hands on his knees and hung his head.
“I had him set up. I just didn’t execute the right pitch,” Bailey said.
Putting hitters away has become an issue for Bailey. He struck out 20 over 12⅓ innings before going on the disabled list April 29 with a biceps strain.
In the 11 games since, Bailey has struck out 10 over 10 innings and seen his velocity dip. It’s an issue they’ve worked on in recent weeks but not found a solution for.
“There’s peaks and valleys in this game with velocity and outings. Right now I’ve got a little bit of both going,” Bailey said.
Bailey says it’s not a physical issue.
“And yet the results are what they are,” Farrell said.
Lackey deserved better. He retired 10 of the first 11 Tigers he faced, and carried a shutout into the fifth inning. A two-run single by Torii Hunter tied the game in that inning. But with two runners on, Lackey struck out Miguel Cabrera swinging at a 93-mile-per-hour fastball to end the inning.
“That’s fun,” said Lackey, who had not faced the Tigers since early in the 2010 season. “He’s a great player and in a spot like that you’ve got to be careful.”
Lackey has a 2.42 ERA in his last seven starts and is down to 3.03 for the season.
Jose Alvarez, Detroit’s starter, was originally signed by the Red Sox out of Venezuela in 2005. The 24-year-old was traded to Florida in 2009 and signed with the Tigers as a minor league free agent before the season. Thursday was his second start.
Alvarez shut out the Red Sox for three innings. Ortiz led off the fourth with a home run to right field, driving a first-pitch fastball several rows into the seats. It was his 15th of the season.
Jose Iglesias started the fifth inning with a soft line drive over the head of the second baseman. What should have been a single turned into a triple as Hunter took a bad angle to the ball and it rolled past him to the wall.
It was the first career triple for Iglesias and his 10th extra-base hit of the season in 95 at-bats. He had three in 74 at-bats prior to this season.
Iglesias scored on a single by Jacoby Ellsbury.
Lefthander Phil Coke walked Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia on eight pitches to start the eighth inning. Ortiz, 1 for 15 in his career against Coke, took a ball then singled to right, driving in a run.
“At the time, I was thinking he would throw me a strike and I wanted to be ready for it,” Ortiz said.
The Sox had a lead. But Bailey could not hold it, and now the search for a closer is on.Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.