CLEVELAND — Before his team’s game against Cleveland, Boston manager Bobby Valentine expressed confidence that the Red Sox were ready to make a run at the playoffs.
Asked why he held that opinion, Valentine said, “We’re due.”
Valentine’s words could turn out to be true, but Thursday night’s 5-3 loss — Boston’s third straight and seventh in nine games — meant another day went off the schedule without the Red Sox gaining any ground. Boston is six games behind in the AL wild card race. The fact the Red Sox trail five teams makes their situation even more problematic.
Boston’s latest loss came against a Cleveland team that snapped an 11-game losing streak Wednesday. It wasn’t how the Red Sox wanted to open a 10-game trip that includes three-game series against AL East rivals Baltimore and New York.
“A lot of things I thought didn’t work out tonight, but they will (Friday),” Valentine said.
Felix Doubront (10-6) settled down after allowing Jason Donald’s leadoff homer in the first, but a three-run fifth inning turned a 3-1 lead into a deficit. The left-hander retired nine straight before the next five hitters reached base. Carlos Santana’s RBI single through the left side tied the game before Michael Brantley’s sacrifice fly off Andrew Miller gave Cleveland a 4-3 lead.
“He wound up with a ground ball that wasn’t hit at someone and (it’s a) tie game and he’s out of there,” Valentine said of Santana’s hit that barely eluded shortstop Mike Aviles, who attempted a diving stop in the hole.
“I struggled in the fifth,” Doubront said. “I felt pretty strong, but then I made some mistakes.”
Other than Adrian Gonzalez’s two-run homer in the fourth and Dustin Pedroia’s RBI single in the fifth, the offense was held in check by four pitchers.
Ubaldo Jimenez (9-11) worked into the seventh, allowing three runs and striking out 10. The Red Sox couldn’t generate any runs off relievers Tony Sipp, Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez in the final three innings.
Boston ran itself out of a potential rally in the seventh. With one out and Pedro Ciriaco on second base, Carl Crawford grounded a pitch to shortstop. Asdrubal Cabrera fielded it and threw to third as Ciriaco tried to advance. Cabrera took third baseman Brent Lillibridge’s return throw and tagged out Ciriaco, then whirled and threw to second to nail Crawford.
“Pedro was a little overaggressive there,” Valentine said. “The ball was hit real hard. His first move was to score. I thought the worst we’d have in that situation was (Pedroia) hitting with two outs.”
Gonzalez was hit by a pitch and Cody Ross singled with one out in the eighth against Pestano, but Jarrod Saltalamacchia struck out and Drew Middlebrooks flied out. The Red Sox went down in order in the ninth against Perez, who had blown saves in his last two opportunities, allowing eight runs over 1 1-3 innings.
Half of Gonzalez’s career hits against Jimenez have been homers. The first baseman was 5 for 28 against the right-hander before pulling a 1-1 pitch to right for his third career homer off him.
Pedroia’s RBI single made it 3-1 in the fifth. Ellsbury singled and got in scoring position by stealing second — his third steal of the game.
Jimenez leads the AL with 77 walks, but the only free pass he issued was to Ellsbury, the first batter of the game.
“We went in thinking that,” Valentine said of Jimenez’s walk total. “He was throwing the ball on the outside corner or wherever the heck it was. He was getting every pitch called a strike. That’s what I saw. That side of the plate was pretty generous … consistently so.”
Donald was recalled from Triple-A Columbus when designated hitter Travis Hafner went on the disabled list with lower back inflammation. Donald became a late lineup replacement for second baseman Jason Kipnis, who was scratched with a sore neck. Donald made it 5-3 with an RBI grounder in the eighth.
Designated hitter David Ortiz, out since July 18 with Achilles and heel injuries could return Sunday. He did agility drills and took batting practice before the game and is slated to run the bases Friday. He could be activated Sunday. Asked if finally having his team intact would give the Red Sox a boost, Valentine said, “We’ll see. I have no idea on predicting.”
NOTES: Valentine said RHP Josh Beckett felt no discomfort in his back or shoulder Wednesday when he allowed eight runs in five innings against Texas in his first start since July 31. … Red Sox reliever Andrew Bailey (thumb surgery) struck out two in a scoreless inning on a rehab assignment for Triple-A Pawtucket. Bailey, acquired from Oakland in the offseason to be Boston’s closer, has been out since spring training. … The Indians fired pitching coach Scott Radinsky on Thursday.