OAKLAND -- The month of September began in much the same way that most of August went for the Red Sox: with a loss. And yet, in dropping their fifth straight game, 7-1 to the Oakland A's, the Red Sox may have made progress Saturday night.
After all, they cut their runs allowed by more than half from the previous night and used just five pitchers compared to seven on Friday night.
And that tells you everything you need to know about how badly things are going.
Of course, it wasn't all sweetness and light. The Sox allowed two stolen bases in the third inning in which the baserunner, Yoenis Cespedes, didn't have to slide. Worse, TV cameras showed Dustin Pedroia and Alfredo Aceves arguing in the dugout, with manager Bobby Valentine beeing shooed away by Aceves before third base coach Jerry Royster successfully broke up the verbal altercation.
Starter Felix Doubront was blasted for five runs in just three innings. Doubront hasn't won since July 18.
Coco Crisp, the one former Sox player who didn't do damage against his former team in the Friday rout, led off with a solo homer and added two other hits. Derek Norris and Brandon Inge each had two RBI to pace the A's.
Oakland starter A.J. Griffin retired the first 14 Red Sox hitters in order before Jarrod Saltalamacchia, facing a shifted Oakland infield, bunted down the third base line for the first hit of the night.
Pedroia's line single to left in the sixth scored Pedro Ciriaco with the lone Red Sox run.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Dustin Pedroia hit his fourth career grand slam to help Rick Porcello get his major league-leading 22nd win, and the Boston Red Sox clinched a playoff berth by beating the Tampa Bay Rays 6-4 Saturday night for their 10th consecutive win.
Boston maintained a 5 1/2-game lead over Toronto for the division title and ensured no worse than the AL's second wild card. While the Red Sox technically have a magic number of one, the Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles play each other three times in the season's final week - meaning only one of them can win match Boston's 91 wins.
Among the other wild-card contenders, only Detroit can reach 91 victories.
Pedroia stopped an 0-for-17 skid with a single in the sixth and gave Boston a 6-3 lead with a seventh-inning drive off Danny Farquhar.
Porcello (22-4) gave up three runs, eight hits and struck out nine over 6 1/3 innings. He just missed getting his 12th consecutive start of seven or more innings and three runs or fewer, which would have moved him past Cy Young (1904) and Pedro Martinez (2000) for the longest stretch during the same season in franchise history.
Craig Kimbrel, the fifth Boston reliever, reached 30 saves for the sixth straight season despite allowing Logan Forsythe's solo homer in the ninth.
Brad Miller hit a two-run double in a three-run second that put Tampa Bay up 3-1 and gave him 80 RBIs.
Tampa Bay threatened in the second but failed to score due to two nice defensive plays. Pedroia made a throw from just in front of the outfield grass at second base on Mikie Mahtook's grounder to get Corey Dickerson at the plate. Third baseman Brock Holt made a solid play along the line on Alexei Ramirez's grounder and threw him out at first to end the inning.
Thought to be lost for the season after shoulder surgery this past spring, Pablo Sandoval could possibly return to the Red Sox for the postseason, Red Sox manager John Farrell told reporters Saturday.
Sandoval joined the team in St. Petersburg, where the Red Sox are playing the Tampa Bay Rays. Farrell said Sandoval had played in instructional league games in Florida and was "well ahead of schedule."
He could be an option to be activated if another player is injured.
“One of the things I put in my mind that I have to work,” Sandoval told Boston Herald. “I learned a lot of things about this surgery so I had to work hard to be on the field as soon as possible.
“There are a lot of things I’ve been doing, working out, doing things so I can get better and better everyday.”
Sandoval, 30, is in the second year of a five-year, $95 contract. He lost his starting third base job to Travis Shaw in spring training and in April an MRI revealed he needed surgery on his left (non-throwing) shoulder, which was to have ended his season.
He appeared in only three games this season and hit .245 with 10 homers and 47 RBI in 126 games in 2015.