BOSTON -- In the end, as always, it comes down to execution.
Hit a fly ball with the bases loaded and less than two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game and the winning run most likely scores from third base. Make a better two-strike pitch to a more advisable location and it's probably the difference between giving up the go-ahead run and getting out of the inning.
And so, in doling out the blame pie from the Boston Red Sox's gut punch of a 10-inning, 3-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Monday night at Fenway Park, Dustin Pedroia, Christian Vazquez and closer Craig Kimbrel all deserve a healthy share for simple failures of execution.
Sometimes, though, a deeper dive is required. Here, then, were two key decisions made by Red Sox manager John Farrell in the ninth and 10th innings and the repercussions they had on the outcome:
1. Pinch hitting for Travis Shaw in the ninth.
With the game tied 1-1, the Red Sox loaded the bases on back-to-back-to-back walks to Hanley Ramirez, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Chris Young. Having seen more than enough from reliever Zach Putnam, White Sox manager Robin Ventura brought in lefty Zach Duke to face Shaw, a left-handed hitter.
Quite simply, Farrell played the percentages.
Shaw is only 7-for-45 (.156) with 14 strikeouts against lefties this season. Since Pedroia was available off the bench, Farrell took advantage of having a right-handed hitter against Duke, who nevertheless has reverse splits this season, holding righties to a .216 average (8-for-37), compared to .275 for lefties (14-for-51).
"In a bases-loaded situation against a left-hander, which obviously was a better matchup for [Pedroia]," Farrell said, "that was the choice there."
One problem: Pedroia struck out on seven pitches.
"The situation, I'm trying to drive the ball to the middle of the field," Pedroia said. "All the pitches he threw me were just dropping down. The last one came up and just sunk under my barrel. He just made one better pitch, and I didn't hit it."
That brought up Vazquez, the No. 8 hitter, who entered the game batting only .213. It's reasonable to argue that holding back Pedroia to hit for Vazquez might have improved the Red Sox's chances. But Farrell reasoned that Vazquez already had two hits in the game, including an RBI single in the seventh inning, and stood a better chance at making contact against a lefty than Shaw did.
Vazquez wound up grounding into the White Sox's five-man infield, and the go-ahead run was cut down at the plate.
"Trying to go to the middle [of the field], fly ball to get the run scored," Vazquez said. "[Duke] was down, down, with sinkers and curveballs. I need to get it up next time."
2. Using Kimbrel in the 10th -- in a non-save situation.
By almost every measure, Kimbrel is as dominant as any closer in the game. But there's also no denying the dip in his effectiveness when he isn't trying to safeguard a lead.
In 18 save chances this season, Kimbrel has a 1.53 ERA, two walks and a 0.566 WHIP. In 10 non-save chances entering Monday night, he had a 2.79 ERA, six walks and 0.931 WHIP.
Over the larger sample size of his full career, the numbers are similar. In 268 save situations: 1.50 ERA, 73 walks, 0.778 WHIP. In 115 non-save situations entering Monday night: 2.03 ERA, 65 walks, 1.225 WHIP.
"I don't know whether, in a save situation, maybe there's a little bit more sense of urgency on the part of the opposition, where they might offer at some pitches just off the edge," Farrell said. "That's the only thing I can point to at this point. I can't say he's a different pitcher in a non-save situation."
Indeed, Kimbrel is the Red Sox's best reliever, regardless of the situation. And as any manager will tell you, a tie game at home is the textbook time to turn to the closer.
But Kimbrel walked Avisail Garcia on four pitches to open the 10th inning, then gave up a single to .179-hitting J.B. Shuck. After retiring the next two batters, he got two strikes on Jose Abreu before leaving a pitch down and in, exactly where the White Sox slugger likes it. Abreu doubled to the gap in right-center, driving in two runs.
"He's a good low-ball hitter and he drove it," Kimbrel said. "I felt like if I could have elevated it a little bit, I might have been able to get it by him. But that wasn't the case."
Kimbrel had appeared in the previous two games, throwing a total of 28 pitches. But neither he nor Farrell thought that was a factor on Monday night.
The bigger issue, it seems, is that Kimbrel throws fewer strikes when a save isn't at stake.
"I didn't know that," Kimbrel said. "You throw four balls, and that's a walk. I feel comfortable on the mound. It doesn't matter what the situation is. I've still got to get outs."
In other words, Kimbrel needed to execute better, just like Pedroia and Vazquez one inning earlier.