CLEVELAND -- Five days ago, Clay Buchholz had been stretched to his limit, throwing a career-high of 127 pitches in a dazzling performance. Considering what Buchholz means to the Red Sox both this year and beyond, there was no way manager Terry Francona would allow Monday to be an overly strenuous night.
So when the righty got up to 94 pitches with one out in the eighth and the tying run on base, he came out in favor of Daniel Bard.
And just like that, what was shaping up as a win for the Red Sox turned into a gut-wrenching 3-2 loss.
Bard, Boston's ace setup man, surrendered the 2-1 lead that Buchholz and Boston had been clinging to since Carl Crawford's solo homer in the top of the fifth.
It was the fourth time in Bard's last seven appearances he has been scored on.
"You just kind of come to expect it as a reliever," Bard said. "You're going to have a little bit of bad luck, and it could look really bad. Same going the other way. It'll even out. I'm confident it will. I'm going to stick to the plan and keep doing what I'm doing because I'm really happy with the way the ball's coming out of my hand. When they hit pitches you're trying to throw, there's not much you can do about it."
The flame-throwing righty took the loss and a blown save to fall to 1-4.
"I would say it's location sometimes," said Francona. "The ball is coming out of his hand great. I thought early in the season he got under some breaking balls that he's tried to remedy and actually done a pretty good job. I just think no matter how hard you throw, some hitters, especially when they're hot, if you leave it out over the plate, especially as they get deeper in the count, they can put a good swing on you. [I] still love going to him. Obviously we do and we will. We may not always be successful, but we believe in him a lot."
Jack Hannahan led off the rally with a single to right. Buchholz then retired Austin Kearns, and Francona came out to get him.
"I'd like to be able to stay in there," said Buchholz. "But Daniel, he's bailed me out way too many times for me not to have confidence in him. It's one of those nights. They've got a lot of good hitters on that team, they took some good swings. It was just a matter of time."
Bard got the first hitter he saw, Carlos Santana, on a popup. But then it fell apart. Michael Brantley ripped an RBI single to tie the game. And the red-hot Asdrubal Cabrera, who had accounted for the only damage against Buchholz with a homer, ripped an RBI double off the wall in left, giving the Indians their first lead of the night.
"I felt really good," said Bard. "[I] threw both of those pitches right where I wanted to. Cabrera's seeing the ball really well right now, so he's hitting pretty much anything. Pitch to Brantley, the count dictated ... everything dictated fastball in. I threw a fastball in. He didn't hit it hard. Just enough to get through, but that's all he needed."
Perhaps things would have transpired differently if Buchholz didn't have to extend himself so much in those seven shutout innings last week against the Tigers.
"I told [pitching coach] Curt [Young] before the game, 'The last thing I want to do is make Buck work hard in his last inning,'" Francona said. "That's right where we were getting to. He pitched great, and it's a shame. We've got to take care of him. I think he's smart enough to know that. The results weren't what we were looking for. He pitched his heart out."
And despite the quick turn of events, the Red Sox didn't show any sign of deflation in the top of the ninth. They nearly came storming right back against Indians closer Chris Perez.
J.D. Drew and Jed Lowrie drilled singles to right, putting runners at the corners with one out. Up stepped Crawford, who could tie the game with a sacrifice fly, a slowly-hit grounder to the right side, a base hit or any number of other ways. Instead, he hit the ball right on the nose, but right at second baseman Orlando Cabrera. It was one of the few places the speedster could hit the ball where it would result in a game-ending double play. But that's exactly what happened.
"Who would've thought that you could get a double play out of Carl Crawford?" said Indians manager Manny Acta. "He had to hit the ball right on the nose, right at the second baseman. Hey, Chris got it done."
A win would have put the Red Sox in first place in the American League East for the first time this season. Instead, they remained a half-game behind the Rays and Yankees.
"I know it's nice to be in first place any time," Crawford said. "I don't really know the significance of it [in May], but it would definitely be nice to be there. Who knows? Maybe we can stay up there if we get up there. Compared to where we were, it's really nice where we are now. We're happy with that, but we still want to keep playing to get to the top."
The Red Sox are 0-4 at Progressive Field this season. The one piece of good news is that second baseman Dustin Pedroia was not seriously injured after limping out of the game in the top of the eighth. Pedroia stumbled over the second-base bag on a single to right by Adrian Gonzalez.
Likely because of the pin that was inserted into his surgically-repaired left foot last August, the second baseman is more prone to jamming his ankle on plays like that. It was the second time it has happened this season.
"Similar to what I did in Anaheim," Pedroia said. "When I do something like that, it's kind of like a 'stinger' like you get in football, so my leg took a little bit of a while to get the feeling back into it. I was already off the field so, it [stinks], man."
It was a tense game, with Buchholz engaging in a pitchers' duel with former teammate Justin Masterson. In fact, the pitchers had nearly identical lines.
Buchholz gave up four hits and two runs over 7 1/3 innings, walking two and striking out four. Masterson reeled off 7 2/3 innings, allowing four hits and two runs while walking two and striking out three.
"That's why their record is what it is," Buchholz said of the 30-15 Indians, who are easily the biggest surprise in the Majors thus far. "They swing the bats well, they pitch well. Masty did a good job tonight, too. You give up two runs, you expect to win if you pitch seven or eight innings. That's the way it goes sometimes. I came up against another good guy that threw the ball well tonight. You've got to tip your hat sometimes."
The Red Sox were the first to rally in this one. With one out in the top of the third, Crawford reached on an infield single to shortstop. Jacoby Ellsbury was hit by a pitch and Pedroia banged an RBI single to right, giving Buchholz the 1-0 lead. It was Pedroia's first RBI since May 2.
It took one swing for the Indians to tie it, and it came off the bat of Asdrubal Cabrera, who roped a leadoff homer to right in the fourth.
"I'm feeling really good," Cabrera said. "I'm getting really good pitches to swing at, and that's all."
But Boston came right back, as Crawford halted his 97 at-bat homerless drought by putting one over the wall in right. Crawford's second long ball in a Boston uniform gave Boston a 2-1 edge.
"It felt good that I'm swinging the bat better," Crawford said. "I'm making progress every day trying to get better. It just [stinks] we lost at the end right there."