If Chaim Bloom needed another reason to try to get another quality arm before the July 31 trade deadline, Alex Cora gave him one on Saturday night.
Trying to protect a two-run lead in the eighth inning, Cora called on Yacksel Rios, who has a career 6.15 ERA and was recently acquired from the Mariners in exchange for cash.
Rios coughed up two runs and blew the Red Sox’ lead.
They failed to score in the top of the 10th and the 11th, then Matt Andriese blew another two-run lead in the 12th as the Sox fell to the Oakland A’s, 7-6.
The loss ended the Sox’ winning streak at eight and will make Sunday’s game the rubber match in a key series against a team that looks like it should contend in the American League.
The Sox bullpen has been remarkable for most of the year, with Matt Barnes and Adam Ottavino looking strong in the final two innings, and Josh Taylor, Hirokazu Sawamura and Garrett Whitlock combining to offer surprising dominance in the middle innings.
Barnes needed the night off and Ottavino was being saved for the ninth, so the skipper went to Rios, who allowed one run on an RBI double from Brown, then watched from the dugout as Darwinzon Hernandez allowed Brown to score on a single by Elvis Andrus to tie the game, 4-4.
In the ninth, the Sox tried to rally when Marwin Gonzalez drew a one-out walk, but he was thrown out trying to steal second base.
The Red Sox messed up again in the 10th, when Danny Santana made a bizarre decision to attempt to steal third base with one out and Alex Verdugo at the plate. Santana was thrown out, then Verdugo struck out to end the frame without a run.
Chaos ensued in the bottom of the 10th, when Brandon Workman was called on intentionally walked Seth Brown, then allowed a leadoff single to Jed Lowrie to load the bases with nobody out. And somehow, the Red Sox escaped.
Tony Kemp tried a drag bunt but popped out straight to the pitcher. Then Elvis Andrus smoked a line drive to left field, where Martinez caught the ball and threw a perfect strike home to nail Sean Murphy at the plate and end the inning.
It was the Sox’ second game-saving throw in as many nights, and their 26th outfield assist, seven more than any other team.
They again issued an intentional walk to start the bottom of the 11th, as Cora’s strategy in extra innings on the road has clearly been to set up the double play ball. But Workman handled the inning easily and the A’s once again couldn’t score.
In the 12th, Gonzalez and Kiké Hernandez hit a pair of RBI singles to give the Sox the runs they needed, but Andriese blew the game in the bottom of the frame.
That Cora didn’t have a better option than Rios, a fringe reliever who just got let go from a mediocre team, with a two-run lead in the eighth inning should remind Bloom that this team needs another pitcher.
Tanner Houck should be recalled from Triple-A Worcester soon, and Chris Sale’s return is maybe a month away as he prepares for a rehab assignment sometime in the next week or two. But the Sox clearly could use some help. They’ve been lucky to avoid injuries to any of their key pitchers, but they’re one sore elbow away from being quite thin on quality arms.
Three other takeaways from this one:
1. The Sox finally got a decent start out of Garrett Richards, who seemed for at least one night to forget about MLB’s new rules banning foreign substances and became a pitcher again. He threw 10 curveballs, a pitch he temporarily abandoned due to the lack of feel, and relied on location and power as he kept the A’s to just two runs on five hits over five-plus innings.
It was Richards’ best start since June 1 and the Sox will hope it can give him some much-needed confidence after he had been getting torched in his previous five starts (8.31 ERA).
2. They relied on some terrific defense in this one, as Martinez’s throw wasn’t the only play they’ll remember.
Rafael Devers made a beautiful, fully-stretched diving stop to his left and threw out a runner from his knees early in the game.
Hernandez made another great play, this time at second base as he leaped to snag a line drive and doubled off a runner at first.
The only sloppiness came from Danny Santana in center field, where he took a questionable route to a hard-hit liner by Seth Brown in the second inning and his leap fell just short. Brown notched a triple and drove in one run on the play.
3. Hernandez hit another home run, taking A’s starter Cole Irvin deep to left-center for a solo shot in the seventh inning. It was Hernandez’s fourth homer in seven games since Cora moved him back to the leadoff spot. He’s now got 10 homers on the season, five each against lefties and righties.