BOSTON (CBS) — The Red Sox lost on Tuesday night due to a multitude of reasons. Felix Doubront, their starting pitcher, got knocked around the ballpark before leaving early with shoulder pain. Edward Mujica, the first man out of the pen, pitched even worse, surrendering a pair of dingers in 1 2/3 innings. The Sox had 12 hits but left nine men on base. Xander Bogaerts hit a laser that could have been a two-run double but instead was an inning-ending double play. The list goes on.
So there’s no one reason that the Red Sox lost to the Blue Jays. But there’s one thing that certainly hurt their chances, and that’s the manager’s curious decision to call for a pair of bunts.
The first came in the sixth inning, with the Sox trailing 7-4 but storming down the comeback trail. Jonny Gomes had hit a two-run homer, and Dustin McGowan entered from the bullpen to give up two straight singles to Bogaerts and Brock Holt. With the reliever somewhat on the ropes and with a rally mounting, Farrell called for catcher David Ross to bunt. Ross saw a hanging breaking ball and attempted to get down a sacrifice bunt. Instead he popped it up to third base.
Obviously, Ross is hitting .167 this season, so taking the bat out of his hands is not the worst idea. But doing so to get to Jackie Bradley Jr. and his .200 average? That’s questionable.
Admittedly, Bradley has done well with a .316 average with RISP, but he also is batting just .151 in the month of May. He’s not exactly the player for whom you typically want to give up an out.
Bradley flew out, Dustin Pedroia struck out, and the inning was over with no more runs scored.
But the even more questionable decision came in the eighth inning. Still trailing by three runs, Holt stepped to the plate representing the tying run. The kid had two hits already — a double to left and a smoked line-drive single to right — but Farrell called for the sacrifice. This one was completed successfully, in that it moved Jonny Gomes to third base and Bogaerts to second base with one out … yet it brought up Ross and Bradley as the batters who needed to drive in those runs. They did not.
Ross struck out, Bradley popped out, and the Sox headed to the ninth in the exact situation Farrell hoped to avoid by calling for the sacrifice bunt.
“Knowing that our top of the lineup was coming up in the ninth inning, just trying to cut the deficit by one or possibly by two with a base hit. We’ve got to trust everyone in the lineup,” Farrell explained after the 7-4 loss. “I didn’t want to turn a three-run deficit over to [Toronto closer Casey] Janssen. Any way we could to try to chip away and cut into some runs. They’ve been a premium to come by, and we’re looking for anything we can to scratch out a run.”
The premise is a bit troubling. The manager knew that the closer was going to be tough in the ninth, yet he gave away one of three outs in the eighth against Aaron Loup. And he gave that out away to get to Ross, who was asked to give up his at-bat in his previous plate appearance. There is “trust,” as Farrell said, and then there is making a bad call. These bunts certainly would fall in the latter category.
When asked about the fact that he asked Ross to sacrifice in the sixth and then sacrificed to get to Ross in the eighth, Farrell got a little defensive.
“Well, it’s first and second, nobody out. Both situations,” Farrell declared.
Janssen was not quite as dominant as Farrell predicted the closer would be in the ninth, as he gave up back-to-back singles to Dustin Pedroia and Shane Victorino to start the inning. David Ortiz then stepped up and launched a ball about 400 feet down the right-field line, but foul. He struck out, and Mike Napoli grounded into a 5-3 double play to end the game.
Calling for a sacrifice bunt is always going to stir up some questions — it just comes with the territory. But the Red Sox won the World Series last year despite dropping down just 24 sac bunts, tied for the third-fewest in all of baseball. And on this night, in these situations in particular, bunting was most definitely the wrong move.
There’s no way to know if things would have turned out differently, and it would take a wild optimist to say definitively that the Red Sox would have won if not for the two gift outs. But despite the manager’s best-laid plans of scoring once in the eighth and twice in the ninth, the Sox’ chances of winning took a big hit based on the bunt calls.
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