Clay Buchholz delivered another forgettable start, Bobby Valentine made more puzzling decisions, Justin Thomas continued to show that he is one of the worst Red Sox relievers in recent history, the bullpen squandered another big lead and Alfredo Aceves nearly blew a save.
Simply put, it was just another night on Wednesday for the Red Sox.
Boston held on for a 7-6 win over Minnesota at Target Field. The Sox once held a 7-1 lead and the victory was not secured until Alfredo Aceves struck out Denard Span with the bases loaded with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
Aceves retired Danny Valencia on a ground out to open the ninth but then walked Trevor Plouffe and allowed a single to pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit. Ben Revere followed with a soft ground out to first that advanced the tying and winning runs into scoring position. That is when Alexi Casilla was drilled on the first pitch with an Aceves cutter, loading the bases.
Aceves preserved the win by striking out Span on a 1-2 change-up, giving Boston a three-game sweep in Minnesota and improving its record to 7-10.
That the Sox escaped with a win is a positive, yet they should never have been in a tight game to begin with since they had a 7-1 lead. The sixth inning is when a rout became a nailbiter for Boston.
Buchholz, who has lacked command of his pitches in all four starts, had allowed just one run entering the sixth, but the Twins had baserunners in all but the fifth inning.
Overall, Buchholz allowed five runs, 10 hits and three walks in 5.1 innings. Once again, his velocity was fine but his command was erratic. His ineffectiveness helped the Twins trim a 7-1 deficit to 7-6 in a five-run sixth inning.
Left-hander Justin Thomas, who is one of the worst relief pitchers on a Boston roster in several years, aided the Twins in the sixth by serving up a two-run double to Justin Morneau (one run was charged to Buchholz, and the other to Scott Atchison who allowed a two-run single to Joe Mauer, the only batter he faced). Yet it was Buchholz who created the jam in the sixth by surrendering two one-out singles followed by an RBI double to Denard Span.
It is understandable why Valentine opted for the right-handed Atchison over the left-handed Thomas to face Mauer. Atchson entered with a 1.54 ERA and had been effective against hitters from both sides of the plate. Yet Mauer hit a grounder that deflected off Atchison for a base hit.
That is when Valentine strode to the mound and called upon Thomas. The same Thomas who has had zero success in two previous major league stops (Seattle and Pittsburgh). The same Thomas was lugged a 7.71 ERA. The same Thomas who had permitted a .450 average to opposing hitters.
The probable happened. Morneau ripped Thomas’ first pitch – a dud of a slider – high off the right-center field wall for a two-run double. Thomas was even left in to face Chris Parmelee, who wishes that Valentine had done the sensible thing and give the left-hander the hook. Thomas hit Parmelee in the head with a 93 m.p.h so-called sinker.
Matt Albers followed Thomas to the mound and served up an RBI single to Trevor Plouffe before inducing a key inning-ending double play off the bat of Sean Burroughs.
Though Atchison, Thomas and Albers served up pitches that resulted in Twins’ runs, thhe final three Sox relievers held Minnesota scoreless. Vicente Padilla looked sharp while retiring the side in order in the seventh. Franklin Morales dismissed the Twins in order in the eighth. Then Aceves had another ninth inning adventure, only this time recording his fourth save.
The woeful outing by Buchholz and the gutwrenching performance from the first three Red Sox relievers overshadowed a productive offensive night against Twins right-handed starter Liam Hendriks. Mike Aviles belted his fourth home run of the season, Jarrod Saltalamacchia laced a two-run single and Dustin Pedroia was a home run short of the cycle on Wednesday. Every member of the Red Sox lineup had a hit except for David Ortiz, who was 0-for-3.
Along with the legitimate concern over Buchholz’s continued struggles, the Red Sox were confronted with another potential issue when Cody Ross departed in the sixth inning with left knee soreness. The team is already thin with its outfield depth.
The Sox now open a four-game series against the White Sox in Chicago. On Thursday, Felix Doubront opposes right-hander Philip Humber, who tossed a perfect game in his last start at Seattle.