For the second night in a row, the Red Sox fell short of a comeback win over the Reds in the process of suffering their second straight one-run loss and their third straight loss overall.
Despite receiving a strong performance from James Paxton and leading after six innings, Boston fell to Cincinnati by a final score of 5-4 at Fenway Park on Wednesday to drop back to one game of .500 at 28-27 on the season.
With right-hander Luke Weaver starting for the Reds, the Red Sox opened the scoring when Masataka Yoshida belted a 359-foot solo shot down the right field line to lead off the bottom half of the second inning. Yoshida’s seventh home run of the year, and first since May 4, left his bat at 97.8 mph.
An inning later, Connor Wong extended his hitting streak to seven by reaching base on a one-out single. He then moved up to second on an Alex Verdugo groundout before coming into score on an opposite-field RBI double from Rafael Devers. The run-scoring knock was the 200th two-base hit of Devers’ career, but he was left at second as Justin Turner grounded out to end the third.
Boston would maintain a two-run lead through four innings. Paxton, who to that point had experienced very little turbulence in his fourth start of the season for the Sox, then ran into some trouble in the fifth. After recording the first two outs of the frame via strikeout, the veteran left-hander issued a four-pitch walk to Jose Barrero.
Luke Maile, Cincinnati’s No. 9 hitter, wasted no time in making Paxton pay for the free pass by driving in Barrero all the way from first on a towering RBI double off the Green Monster. Maile then advanced to third on a Kevin Newman single, but Paxton stranded the runners on the corners by fanning the final batter he faced in Matt McLain.
All told, Paxton allowed just the one earned run on four hits and one walk to go along with eight strikeouts over five solid innings of work. The 34-year-old finished with exactly 100 pitches (68 strikes) and induced 22 swings-and-misses, the most of any big-league pitcher on Wednesday. He also lowered his ERA on the season to 4.26.
With Paxton’s night done, the Red Sox got that run right back in the bottom of the fifth when rookie Enmanuel Valdez took Weaver 356 feet over the Green Monster for his fourth homer of the year. The 99.1 mph blast put Boston back up, 3-1, going into the sixth.
Kutter Crawford received the first call out of the Red Sox bullpen from manager Alex Cora. Making his first appearance since tweaking his right ankle in Arizona this past Saturday, Crawford immediately issued back-to-back walks out of the gate. The righty then retired Tyler Stephenson and the pinch-hitting Jake Fraley on a pair of flyouts, but he could not escape the jam entirely.
Instead, Crawford extended the inning by giving up an RBI single to Nick Senzel that cut Boston’s lead down to one at 3-2. Josh Winckowski came on to record the final out of the sixth but he, too, was not his usual self in the top of the seventh.
After Maile reached on a Devers throwing error to lead off the inning, Newman and McClain delivered back-to-back singles to fill the bases with no outs. Winckowski then got Jonathan India to ground into a a 6-4-3 double play, but it was enough to allow the pinch-running Will Benson to score from third to knot things up at three runs apiece.
Just moments after they tied the game, Spencer Steer gave the Reds their first lead of the night by crushing a go-ahead, two-run home run into the Monster seats off Winckowski, who was ultimately charged with a blown save as well as the losing decision.
Trailing 5-3 now, the Red Sox had a golden opportunity to respond in the latter half of the inning. Valdez, Verdugo, and Devers all reached to fill the bases with two outs. But lefty reliever Alex Young got Turner to ground out to short to extinguish the threat.
Following a 1-2-3 top of the eighth from Chris Martin, Yoshida led off the bottom half with a hard-hit double off new Reds reliever Lucas Sims. Jarren Duran then drove in Yoshida from second with a two-base hit of his own. Alas, the potential tying run was left on base as the pinch-hitting Raimel Tapia (lineout) and Valdez were each retired by Sims.
Like Martin, Nick Pivetta put up a zero in the top of the ninth to give the Red Sox one more shot in the latter half. With two outs and the bases empty, Devers lifted a 104.6 mph line drive to center field off Buck Farmer, but it fell well short of the bleachers and was caught by Senzel on the warning track for the final out.
Next up: Sale gets ball in series finale
On the heels of a 13-13 May, the Red Sox will look to open the month of June by putting an end to this three-game losing streak and avoid a three-game sweep at the hands of the Reds in Thursday’s series finale. Left-hander Chris Sale will get the start for Boston while Cincinnati will counter with hard-throwing right-hander Hunter Greene.
First pitch from Fenway Park is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN.
(Picture of Josh Winckowski: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)