BOSTON -- Perhaps it’s a concession to how limited the Boston Red Sox's offense is these days, that instead of trying to slug it out with the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night, Red Sox manager John Farrell tried to keep the game close by bunting.
The Blue Jays have hit 63 home runs this season, tied with the Colorado Rockies for most in the majors. They have bashed 31 in 19 games this month, including four Tuesday night, two by Edwin Encarnacion. The Sox, after Jonny Gomes went deep Tuesday, have hit 13 in May.
Still, it was almost beyond the pale to see the Sox, trailing by three runs, attempt to bunt with runners on first and second with no outs -- not once, but twice. This after eschewing a bunt in the same situation in the eighth inning of a 1-0 game Friday night against the Detroit Tigers. In Fenway Park, no one tries to bunt their way back into a high-scoring game. Until the Red Sox did Tuesday.
Maybe this is just what happens when a team is in the midst of a five-game losing streak. The pitchers don’t pitch, the hitters don’t hit and the manager’s decisions blow up on him.
David Ross bunted in the sixth and popped out. The next two hitters were retired. Brock Holt successfully bunted in the eighth ahead of Ross, but then the Sox catcher whiffed for the 20th time in 48 plate appearances. The next batter, Jackie Bradley Jr., popped out.
Two potential game-swinging rallies, with nothing to show for either. The Sox gave themselves a final chance in the ninth, on base hits by Dustin Pedroia and Shane Victorino, and no one was thinking bunt this time. Not with David Ortiz and Mike Napoli the next two hitters. But Ortiz, after hitting a foul ball that had home run distance, went down swinging against Jays closer Casey Janssen, and Napoli grounded into a game-ending double play.
“Knowing that our top of the lineup is coming up in the ninth inning, [we] just tried to cut the deficit by one or possibly by two with a base hit,” Farrell said in explaining his eighth-inning strategy. “We’ve got to trust everyone in the lineup.
“Despite Brock having good at-bats [he had doubled and singled in his previous two at-bats], we felt like that was what the situation called for. [We] didn’t want to turn a three-run deficit over to Janssen. Any way we could to try and chip away and cut into some runs. They’ve been a premium to come by. [We were] looking for anything we can to scratch out a run.”
The way Ross has been swinging the bat these days -- he was three for his last 25 when he came to the plate in the sixth -- you can possibly understand why Farrell would have asked him to bunt. And having played in the National League, he has had plenty of practice. But he failed to execute, and Bradley’s drive to the warning track in center only succeeded in advancing Xander Bogaerts to third instead of scoring him. Pedroia then went down swinging.
Ross said he couldn’t recall the last time he was asked to bunt with his team trailing by three runs, but insisted he wasn’t surprised to be asked to do so Tuesday, which may have been an exercise in diplomacy.
“I don’t get surprised,” he said. “I try to prepare myself for whatever the third-base coach asks me to do.”
Having Holt bunt to get to Ross, however, seemed an even more debatable decision, given how Ross isn’t hitting. Why give up an out, especially where Holt had a couple of hits already on the night?
“I’m trying to battle up there,” Ross said. “I think we all are. I don’t know if I’m trying too hard, we’re trying too hard. I’m not getting hits with people on and off [the bases], to tell you the truth.”
Pedroia rebuffed any attempt to let the outcome of the game be framed in terms of Farrell’s decisions.
“That’s not my job, to second-guess,” Pedroia said. “It’s not any of my teammates’ jobs. Our job is to show up and win and do whatever we’re asked to do and play winning baseball. They were better than us tonight. I’m not going to, not one guy is going to point a finger at our manager. We’re all in this together. We win as a team, we lose as a team.
“We’ve lost five in a row. We’re going to turn it around.”