TORONTO — The Red Sox are still in contention for a playoff spot, hard as that may be to believe considering president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski was fired during the game on Sunday and the roster has only three healthy starting pitchers.
But that’s just a technicality at this point, a false hope.
A 4-3 loss against the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night offered a more realistic assessment of where the Sox are now, and it’s grim.
Playing in front of crowd of only 17,819 at the Rogers Centre, the Sox fell to a rebuilding Blue Jays team that had lost seven in a row. Worse, they managed only one hit over the final four innings, an infield single.
Mookie Betts, who belted the first pitch of the game for his 28th home run, drew a walk off Toronto closer Ken Giles with two outs in the ninth inning. But Rafael Devers popped up to center field to leave two runners stranded.
The Sox have lost four straight and seven of 10. They are now nine games behind in the wild-card race with 17 left to play.
At 76-69, the Sox should be able to finish over .500. But that’s not a lock given the last week and the emotional letdown in its wake.
The Sox have scored only nine runs in the last four games, and on Tuesday Toronto’s bullpen retired 13 of the final 15 Sox hitters.
Nathan Eovaldi pitched well in his two previous starts, giving up two runs on four hits over nine innings and striking out 11. But he was erratic against the Blue Jays, quickly running up his pitch count against one of the least productive lineups in the American League.
Eovaldi needed 82 pitches to get through four innings but allowed solo homers by Cavan Biggio and Reese McGuire.
“I thought tonight was my best fastball command, but what got me in trouble was not being to navigate with my splitter,” Eovaldi said. “It was real inconsistent and caused me not to get by some situations.
“I was using the curveball early for strike one and fastballs up in the zone. A lot of times as the game continues I’m able to find a feel for my splitter, and tonight I wasn’t able to do that. It’s frustrating. I’ve got to go out there and get deep into ballgames.”
The issue is not the quality of his pitches; it’s the ability to go deeper into games. The Blue Jays fouled off 22 pitches, 14 of them fastballs.
“It’s the foul balls, and that will always be there because of his stuff,” manager Alex Cora said. “They keep fouling off pitches and the pitch count goes up. I think he went to the fastball when he was supposed to. But they kept battling.”
The Sox took a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning. Devers and J.D. Martinez had back-to-back doubles off T.J. Zeuch, a 24-year-old rookie making his first start.
It was the 50th double of the season for Devers. He is the eighth Red Sox player to reach that mark, the first since Dustin Pedroia had 54 in 2008. The last Red Sox third baseman with 50 double was Wade Boggs, who had 51 in 1989.
Andrew Benintendi then delivered a single to center off Buddy Boshers.
Eovaldi’s response was to walk Biggio on five pitches to open the bottom of the inning. He came back to strike out Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Cora called in lefthander Josh Taylor to face Rowdy Tellez, a burly lefthanded-hitting slugger who has tormented the Sox this season.
Taylor, pitching for the ninth time in 13 games, threw a fastball over the middle that Tellez drove over the fence in right-center.
Tellez is 15 of 35 (.429) against the Red Sox this season with three doubles, six home runs, and 13 RBIs. He has otherwise hit .198 with 12 home runs and 34 RBIs.
The six home runs are the most by a player against the Sox this season. Gleyber Torres of the Yankees has five.
“It seems like he’s hitting home runs in the same spot, down and in,” Cora said. “He’s made some adjustments. Everything down he’s getting to.”
Eovaldi was charged with three runs on six hits over 4⅓ innings. He has a 5.81 earned run average — 5.94 in nine starts.
Toronto threatened again in the sixth inning, loading the bases with two outs. But Ryan Brasier got Guerrero to ground into a force at second base.