BOSTON -- The Red Sox declared a moratorium on the closer debate Wednesday night, although it was unintentional.
This one was decided well before the ninth inning, as a rare lapse by Sox left-handed reliever Craig Breslow allowed the Tampa Bay Rays to break open a one-run game with a three-run seventh inning en route to a 6-2 win at Fenway Park. A crowd of 35,710 at Fenway Park had little to cheer, other than the updates on another Bruins thriller at the Garden.
The Rays, losers of both ends of a doubleheader Tuesday night, won for just the third time in 12 meetings against the Sox. They have been beaten at Fenway three times on walk-offs this season, which tied the record for the most walk-off losses against an opponent in a season. They’ll have one more chance to break that record in July, when they come in for four games after the All-Star break.
The Sox now head for Detroit and a four-game set against the Central-leading Tigers, who just lost two of three to the Orioles, who have closed to within 1½ games of the Sox again.
You think the Sox have a closer controversy with Andrew Bailey? Detroit closer Jose Valverde gave up five hits and four runs in an inning Wednesday in a non-save situation; in his last eight appearances dating to May 31, Valverde has blown three saves and has a 13.50 ERA, having allowed 11 earned runs in 7 1/3 innings. He also has given up five home runs in that time.
Breslow entered in the seventh with the Rays having built a 3-2 lead at the expense of Sox starter Ryan Dempster, who gave up two runs in the first on a home run by Desmond Jennings, two singles and a sacrifice fly, then another on singles by Jose Molina and Ben Zobrist sandwiched around a walk to Jennings.
Jennings started the seventh-inning rally against Breslow with a one-out single through the left side. Zobrist flied out for the second out, but with Jennings on the move, Evan Longoria drove a ball off the Monster, Jennings scoring all the way from first. James Loney then went the other way, grounding a ball down the third-base line against an overshifted Sox defense for a double, and bringing manager John Farrell out of the dugout to summon Alex Wilson, in his first appearance since his recall from Pawtucket.
Rays prized prospect Wil Myers greeted Wilson with a gap double to right-center, making it 6-2.
Farrell gave Longoria credit for hitting a good pitch.
“I thought [Breslow] was in a good at-bat against Longoria," he said. “He goes down and hits a changeup off the wall. Loney stays inside a ball that we’ve got a little bit of a shift on and finds its way through.
“[This was] another outing where I think he threw the ball like we’ve seen. He’s going to throw the ball over the plate, Longoria stays on a pitch that’s down in the zone and you tip your hat in those situations.”
In 11 of Dempster’s 15 starts, the Sox have scored three runs or fewer while he has been in the game, a big reason the club is just 6-9 in games he has pitched.
“I just wish we were winning more of the games that I’m starting," he said. “That’s all I care about, the day I pitch that we win, and we’re not winning those right now. So I’ve just got to keep working hard, keep trying to make better pitches and get better every time out, go out there and give us a chance to win."
The Sox closer situation was a prime topic of discussion before the game, with Farrell reiterating his support for Bailey, who has allowed runs in three of his last four appearances and has been taken deep by Jose Lobaton of the Rays, Matt Wieters of the Orioles, and Kelly Johnson of the Rays in an eight-day span.
“Any time you can go to a guy to lock down a game which you’re supposed to win, I think that keeps momentum going within our clubhouse," Farrell said. “It keeps a positive atmosphere within that group.
“And yet, every good player is going to go through some ups and downs along the way, and that’s where our job as a staff comes in, to get them back on track and have them perform to their capabilities.”
Farrell said that on all three home runs, Bailey has been taken deep on fastballs that he left up in the zone, a fastball that has lacked the movement it has when Bailey is at his best. If he can’t rely on that fastball, Farrell said, Bailey has to do a better job of getting ahead in the count and having better command of his secondary stuff, in this case his cutter and curveball.
“I think it’s as much pitch selection and game plan, where he might not have that same second gear to his fastball up in the zone, or he might have to use his secondary pitches earlier in the sequence,’’ Farrell said. “But more importantly, to execute a secondary pitch for a strike, because I think over the last four outings it’s been pretty clear that any time he throws a breaking ball guys are spitting on it until he has thrown it for a strike. So an increase in consistency of strikes with his breaking ball would go a long way.”
Farrell was asked whether he had any concerns that Bailey will regain that “second gear."
“No," he said, "but what we have to deal with is in the now and until that gets back there -- which there’s no reason to think it won’t -- this is what we’re dealing with.”
Since Bailey went on the disabled list May 6 (retroactive to April 29) with biceps tendinitis, missing 19 games, Farrell said he has seen that extra gear only “in flashes."
“Not as consistent as before he went on the DL," Farrell said. “But there’s been no complaints of soreness, no adjustment to his warmup routine. So all those are consistent, [but] we’re dealing with a human being.”
Farrell did not rule out the possibility that other relievers might be considered to close, especially if a closer is required in a succession of games.
“There’s no lack of confidence in other guys, I will tell you that," said Farrell, who acknowledged Andrew Miller as one who could get consideration. “But right now I want to make sure that there’s some level of stability and continuity with that group. I firmly believe that the mental side of this game out there is important for that group, for them to know where they stack up."