Despite a plethora of opportunities, the Red Sox were unable to finish off a series sweep and extend their winning streak to five consecutive games on Sunday afternoon, as they fell to the Indians by a final score of 11-5 at Fenway Park.
It was a day that started with uncertainty for the Sox, with Nick Pivetta being scratched from his start on account of being placed on the COVID-19 related injured list.
Instead of Pivetta, Boston was forced to turn to pitching prospect Kutter Crawford, who had been on the club’s taxi squad after making just six appearances (five starts) above the Double-A level this season.
Crawford’s inexperience showed on Sunday, as the right-hander surrendered five runs — all of which were earned — on five hits and two walks to go along with two strikeouts over just two-plus innings of work.
While he did not necessarily get shelled, Crawford did fall victim to some poor luck, as evidenced by his loading the bases with no outs in the top half of the first.
Cleveland did get to Crawford for two runs on a pair of sacrifice flies after loading the bases, and they got to him for an additional run an inning later when Owen Miller led off with a double and came around to score on a two-out RBI single off the bat of Myles Straw.
In the third, Crawford served up a monstrous 419-foot solo shot to Franmil Reyes to lead off the inning, and the righty’s day quickly came to a close after issuing a six-pitch walk to Bobby Bradley.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 57 (40 strikes), the 25-year-old hurler threw 26 four-seam fastballs, 15 cutters, 13 curveballs, two sinkers, and one changeup. He induced nine total swings-and-misses while averaging 93.8 mph with his four-seamer.
In relief of Crawford, John Schreiber got the first call out of the Boston bullpen, and he officially closed the book on the starter’s outing by giving up a hard-hit double to Harold Ramirez that was followed by a softly-hit two-run single from Bradley Zimmer to give Cleveland a commanding 6-0 lead.
Schreiber, to his credit, managed to escape the third inning without giving anything else up before stringing together two scoreless frames in the fourth and fifth innings in what was his Red Sox debut.
At that point, the Sox, still trailing by six runs, finally got to Indians starter Zach Plesac, as Hunter Renfroe led off the bottom of the fifth with a line-drive double to center field.
Renfroe did not stay at second base for long, though, with J.D. Martinez getting his productive afternoon of the plate started with an RBI double to left field.
After an Alex Verdugo walk, Kevin Plawecki snuck a run-scoring single back up the middle to bring in Martinez, while Travis Shaw came up just inches short of a three-run homer, but settled for an RBI single that scored Verdugo and put runners at first and second with no outs.
Bobby Dalbec failed to advance either runner on a flyout to left field, and — at that moment — Red Sox manager Alex Cora got aggressive by dispatching Rafael Devers, who initially had the day off, to pinch-hit for Jack Lopez.
Devers, however, was unable to get the job done off the bench, as he punched out on seven pitches before Jonathan Arauz also struck out to leave two important runs at second and third base.
Still, after Schreiber and left-hander Stephen Gonsalves combined to put up a zero in the top of the sixth, the Boston bats kept things going against the Cleveland bullpen.
Matched up against Nick Wittgren, the Renfroe-Martinez combination struck once more, with the former reaching base via a one-out single and the latter clearing the bases on a 401-foot two-run home run into the Red Sox bullpen.
Martinez’s 25th homer of the season made cut the Sox’ deficit down to just one run at 6-5, and Verdugo kept the pressure on by ripping a line-drive double to put the potential tying run in scoring position.
Plawecki moved Verdugo up to third base on a softly-hit groundout, but Shaw was unable to bring him in and instead grounded out to first base to extinguish the threat.
From there, Ryan Brasier bounced back from a shaky 2021 debut on Friday by facing the minimum of three batters in the top of the seventh, and the Red Sox offense had another chance to pull even with the Indians in the bottom half.
Taylor Motter, who replaced Lopez at second base earlier in the contest, had drawn a one-out walk off Trevor Stephan and remained there when Arauz flew out to left field. With Kyle Schwarber at the plate, though, Motter was picked off at first base, thus ending the inning.
Hansel Robles kept Cleveland at six runs with a 1-2-3 eighth inning, but this one got away from Boston when Phillips Valdez took the mound for the top half of the ninth.
After twirling two shutout frames on Saturday, Valdez got rocked for five runs on five hits on Sunday afternoon.
That meltdown of an inning allowed the Indians to jump out to an 11-5 lead, and that would go on to be Sunday’s final score.
In total, the Sox went 3-for-18 with runners in scoring position and left 12 runners on base as a team on Sunday.
With the loss, the Red Sox fall to 79-60 on the season, though they remain just a 1/2 game back of the Yankees, who lost to the Orioles on Sunday, for the first American League Wild Card spot.
Next up: Rays on deck
The Red Sox will celebrate the Labor Day holiday on Monday by welcoming in the Tampa Bay Rays into town for a three-game series at Fenway Park.
Left-hander Chris Sale will get the ball for Boston in Monday’s series opener, while fellow lefty Ryan Yarbrough will do the same for Tampa Bay.
First pitch Monday is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN and ESPN.
(Picture of Bobby Dalbec and Kyle Schwarber: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)