April 15, 2024

With Kenley Jansen down, Red Sox lose in extra innings, spoiling a late comeback

SEATTLE — Boston Red Sox starting pitching, a source of consternation all offseason, has been one of the club’s brightest spots through the first few games of the season.

And yet, the Red Sox still have lost two of their first three games.

Saturday night, despite a strong six-inning outing from Kutter Crawford and a valiant comeback effort from the offense in extra innings, the Red Sox lost in walk-off fashion 4-3 to the Seattle Mariners.

When closer Kenley Jansen, who notched his first save of the season Thursday, didn’t enter late in a tie game or even once the Red Sox had taken a 3-1 lead in the 10th, it appeared an odd move, until manager Alex Cora revealed after the game that Jansen was out with a tight back.

Jansen said he woke up with tightness, similar to what he dealt with at the end of spring training, though not as bad. The 36-year-old arrived at the ballpark and tried to loosen it up, but Cora opted not to push him for fear of worsening it and forcing him out longer.

“I just woke up with a bad back again today, nothing I can do about it,” Jansen said. “Tried to come to the ballpark and get ready, but it wouldn’t allow me, so I got to be smart. I go out there and aggravate it and then it could be worse for a week or two, so I’d rather lose one day or two.”

Jansen’s status had a trickle-down effect on the bullpen. After Crawford exited, Cora opted for Isaiah Campbell, Chris Martin and Greg Weissert in the seventh through ninth innings. Cora said that even without Jansen, he didn’t hold Martin for a save situation because he wanted to keep the score tied 1-1 in the eighth with Julio Rodriguez due up fourth in that inning.

“When (Martin) came in, yeah, it was the bottom of the lineup, but Julio was fourth,” Cora explained. “You have to manage around that guy. He’s that good. He did an outstanding job. Then we have length with Weissert. It’s one of those you would love to hold him, but you still have to have the lead or be tied going into the last inning.”

The Red Sox took their first lead of the game in the 10th inning, appearing primed for a dramatic win.

Ceddanne Rafaela started out on second base as the automatic runner, having made the last out in the ninth inning. Rafaela scored easily on a one-out single from Pablo Reyes. Reyes was thrown out trying to steal second, but Reese McGuire, pinch hitting for Connor Wong, doubled, and Tyler O’Neill, in for Jarren Duran, was intentionally walked before Masataka Yoshida drove in another run. The designated hitter, 0-for-4 with three strikeouts to that point, slapped a single up the middle to score McGuire for the 3-1 lead.

With three lefties due up in the bottom of the 10th, Cora turned to left-hander Joely Rodriguez. Rodriguez allowed a leadoff single to left, scoring the automatic runner. After a sharp line out to second, Mariners third baseman Josh Rojas singled to right with a runner on first. It was a routine play, but Wilyer Abreu misplayed the ball, allowing the runners to advance to second and third. The error proved costly. With the infield in, J.P. Crawford hit a ball to second and Enmanuel Valdez fired home, but the runner beat the tag to tie the score. At that point, Cora turned to Justin Slaten, making his major-league debut, to face Julio Rodriguez. On a 3-1 pitch, Rodriguez singled up the middle for the walk-off win.

“That was a great pocket for him,” Cora said of using Joely Rodriguez in that spot. “Jam shot over the third baseman. Out-in-front base hit, contact play. They put the ball in play and they found holes. Obviously, we would love to work ahead in the count, that would be better. But the quality of the contact wasn’t great. Bad luck.”

Whether it was untimely injuries, bad luck or second-guessed managerial decisions, the loss wasted another strong start from a Red Sox starter. Kutter Crawford followed an excellent outing from Nick Pivetta on Friday night by posting six innings, allowing an unearned run on three hits and a walk while striking out seven. He threw 53 of 84 pitches for strikes and induced 10 swings-and-misses.

With Rafael Devers out dealing with shoulder soreness, Cora opted to play Reyes at third base.

The Mariners took advantage of Reyes’ spot start at third as J.P. Crawford laid down a bunt in the first at-bat. Reyes rushed the play and threw the ball away allowing Crawford to reach second. But Trevor Story’s elite defense helped his starter avoid an even more precarious start. On the next play, Story ranged to his right, slid to stop the ball and threw across his body to beat Julio Rodriguez. Crawford didn’t advance to third on the play. A deep fly out in the next at-bat could have scored him; instead, the Mariners had two outs. Crawford eventually scored on a Mitch Haniger single, but the Red Sox starter got a strikeout to end the inning.

After that rocky first inning, Kutter Crawford allowed a leadoff single in the second then retired 14 straight batters before issuing a two-out walk in the sixth.

“It’s always good to kind of get that first one out of the way,” he said. “Obviously the result isn’t what we wanted, but I think overall, it was a pretty good ballgame.”

Rafaela, who made a fantastic diving catch in the bottom of the fourth, led off the fifth with a double. When Valdez hit a fly ball to deep left, Rafaela used his speed to advance to third. And with the infield in, Reyes hit a hard bouncing liner to shortstop, but Rafaela, taking off on contact, scored sliding head-first to tie the score, a score that held until the 10th inning.

Rafaela’s aggressiveness was another bright spot on an otherwise frustrating night.

“(His) at-bats have been good,” Cora said. “I think Pablo did an outstanding for the role he played. It’s just a tough one. We’re pitching. We made two errors and it cost us the game.”

(Photo of the Mariners’ Julio Rodriguez celebrating his walk-off RBI single as the Red Sox leave the field in the 10th inning Saturday: Joe Nicholson / USA Today)