TORONTO - At a time of year when the games should be routine and otherwise unremarkable, just one more day crossed off a most forgettable Red Sox calendar, Sunday's 5-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays managed to somehow stand out.
The Sox and Jays were scoreless in the seventh when Pedro Ciriaco singled with two outs.
Shortstop Jose Iglesias, scheduled to hit next, took his place in the batter's box. With the count 1-and-2, Ciriaco broke for second, giving the Sox a runner in scoring position.
Then, much to just about everyone's surprise, Iglesias was called back from the batter's box and replaced by pinch-hitter Daniel Nava.
Nava then hit the first pitch back to pitcher Brandon Lyon, who threw Nava out and ended the inning.
"Just trying to get a run for Jon (Lester), obviously," explained Bobby Valentine when asked about the logic behind the move. "I told Daniel if he steals second, 'You got it.' Otherwise, I was all set to play defense. Nothing-nothing. Guy gets to second base, you want to take a shot at a base hit."
In May or June, sure. For a team fighting for a playoff spot, of course. But for a team that went into Sunday tied for fourth place, 14 games under .500?
And that doesn't begin to address the issue of Iglesias's confidence. If the Sox still view Iglesias as their shortstop of the future -- maybe even their shortstop of the near future - that seemed like a curious move.
Why damage Iglesias's confidence? More to the point, why not see how he handles such an opportunity?
"I was pinch-hit with the bases loaded and a 3-and-2 count on me," said Valentine. "It didn't ruin my confidence. I think he'll get over it. I talked to him. He said, 'whatever's best for the team.'"
Valentine continually cited the attempt to get a win for Lester, who has pitched better than his record would indicate. But remember, Valentine wasn't quite so solicitous of Lester's feelings when he left him in for 11 runs in four innings against this same Toronto lineup in July.
"It's tough," said Valentine of the balance that must be navigated between trying to win and trying to evaluate. "Jon's pitching such a good game. You get him a run there, he wins the ballgame. He's battling, too. It's not about one guy; it's about the whole group of guys.
"There's a good balance there. Guy's just pitched 100 pitches, trying to win a baseball game. There'll be plenty of time to evaluate. I don't think that's a make-or-break situation. He's got one hit so far. There will be a lot of opportunities to get some hits. It's not kindergarten here.
"You don't think it was the right decision? So what. I think it was the right thing to do to try to win a game for a guy (Lester) who's busting his butt out there."
For his part, Iglesias was diplomatic and deferential.
"The manager made a decision," he said. "He's trying to do the best for the team and I respect the decision. I was ready to hit. I put some good ABs together today. That's all I can do and whatever decision he made, I respect him."
Nava said he was told "to be ready" if Ciriaco reached scoring position.
"I think anyone who comes off the bench, you know you've got to be ready," he said. "I didn't know the exact details of when I could be going in, because you never know if you are. But for a guy who comes off the bench, it doesn't matter if it's a fresh count or in the middle of the at-bat -- you have to be ready."
Nava acknowledged he felt badly for Iglesias, pulled off the field in the middle of an at-bat ("Oh yeah, totally").
When the season is over, it's highly unlikely being lifted for a pinch-hitter mid at-bat will scar Iglesias for the rest of his career.
But when the season is over, would it have mattered if the Sox finish with 71 wins instead of 72? Or with 72 instead of 73?
Instead, it's likely to be remembered for what it was: a strange move made during a lousy year, one that didn't make much sense in the big picture.