As fresh as Junichi Tazawa was to his new role in the ninth inning, he seemed to be settling into the idea of being the pitcher the Red Sox called on to close the door.
The previous two times he’d come in to tie a bow on things, he was flawless. He pitched a hitless inning against the Indians on Wednesday, then turned the lights out on the Royals the next day with a 1-2-3 frame.
But he still was getting comfortable with the job.
“It certainly is an adjustment,” Tazawa said through interpreter C.J. Matsumoto.
He was in position to do it again Sunday afternoon after the Sox rallied from a two-run deficit to take a two-run lead into the ninth.
He took the mound with a light but steady rain falling, looking to get the final three outs.
But, trying to get a grip on a slippery ball, Tazawa couldn’t keep his fastball from drifting up in the zone and couldn’t get the Royals to bite on his splitter.
Sox interim manager Torey Lovullo said he had complete trust in Tazawa, even after he gave up three straight hits to put himself in a tight spot.
“We wanted to give Taz every chance to get out of that inning,” Lovullo said. “He wasn’t coming out of that inning until he either gave up the lead or he got out of that inning.”
Tazawa gave up four runs on six hits, and the Royals were able to leave Fenway Park with an 8-6 win.
“The pitches that got hit were obviously a little bit higher than I was trying to pitch,” Tazawa said. “I felt a lot of responsibility since the team had got the lead for us and I wasn’t able to keep it.”
Eric Hosmer’s two-run single wiped out the Sox’ 6-4 lead.
But Mike Moustakas’s 10-pitch battle two at-bats later was the backbreaker.
Moustakas fouled off five straight pitches before lacing a liner into the gap in right-center for the go-ahead two-run double.
“He was getting to all the pitches that were borderline, fouling off a lot of pitches and I was dealing with a slippery ball, obviously,” Tazawa said. “I was trying to get through, but he got the best of me.”
With the victory, the Royals salvaged a split of the four-game series and picked up their seventh victory in nine games.
“They hit some good pitches,” Lovullo said. “It was not a typical Taz day. He’s been very consistent for us all year long. We’ve got to give them some credit. They’re a pretty good team, ready to take advantage of some mistakes and they did. They didn’t shut down and that’s why they’re the best team in the American League right now.”
The Sox took a 2-0 lead in the second inning on an RBI double from Jackie Bradley Jr. and a run-scoring single from Josh Rutledge.
Eduardo Rodriguez was sharp over six innings, giving up four runs (two earned) on seven hits, but messy defense cost him a pair of runs in the fourth.
The Sox committed two errors on one play: Rutledge botched a ground ball up the middle and Mookie Betts scooped it in center field, only to short-hop the throw to third into the Royals’ dugout. Hosmer scored on the second error and Moustakas, the next hitter, doubled to center to put the Royals ahead, 3-2.
Moustakas’s opposite-field homer over the Green Monster in the sixth gave the Royals a two-run cushion, but the Sox chipped away in the bottom of the sixth.
First David Ortiz hit a sacrifice fly to score Pablo Sandoval, then Rusney Castillo singled in Travis Shaw, who had doubled, to tie the score at 4. The next inning, Bradley doubled into the right-field corner and, while the ball rolled around on the warning track, Ryan Hanigan came around to put the Sox ahead, 5-4.
Three batters later, with Bradley on third and two outs, Sandoval chopped a ball onto the infield grass. Royals pitcher Franklin Morales misfired on his throw to first, and Bradley scored an insurance run on the infield single.
Alexi Ogando, Tommy Layne, and Jean Machi came out of the bullpen to combine for two shutout innings before handing things over to Tazawa.
Since Koji Uehara went on the disabled list Aug. 8, Tazawa has saved two games and blown two saves in five appearances.
“It’s a learning moment for Taz. I think as we keep moving forward, he’s going to be better off for this moment.”