PHILADELPHIA -- As the Red Sox march toward perhaps their best regular season ever, there is still some fine-tuning to be done before the games that matter most.
Perhaps at the top of the list of players the club would like to get right is lefty Thomas Pomeranz, who hasn't been able to find a groove all season, and that trend continued in Wednesday's 7-4 loss to the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, which snapped Boston's five-game win streak.
"I wanted to put him in a high-leverage situation with a few switch-hitters and a lefty there to see how he reacted," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "He threw the ball well in Baltimore so we trust the guy. Also, we were very yellow and orange in my card [of available relievers]. It's good to stay away from some guys, but at the same time, wanted to see how he would do in that situation."
Pomeranz was demoted to the bullpen a week ago in hopes that the new role could help him get back on track. That was the case in his first two relief outings, but not on Wednesday, when Pomeranz came on for the seventh with his team down just a run and effectively pitched them out of the game, getting hammered for four hits, three runs and a walk in one inning. Pomeranz last worked regularly as a reliever in 2015.
"You have to come in and be ready now [in the bullpen]," Pomeranz said. "As a starter, you can come in and get settled. Guys are more aggressive when you pitch in relief. You have to be ready right then. I had enough time to warm up. I threw a bunch to try to be ready. Couldn't find those putaway pitches."
It has become an all-too-recurring theme for Pomeranz, who has a 6.34 ERA in 14 appearances in a season that has also included two trips to the disabled list.
"I mean, it's definitely frustrating," Pomeranz said. "I definitely don't feel like the stuff that I have right now is the stuff that I've had the last two years, and at some point, you just have to figure out a way to make it work and stop looking for what's going on this year and just make pitches. That's kind of where I'm at right now."
Before Cora went to Pomeranz, he turned to Joe Kelly for the sixth inning in a tie game. Playing under National League rules, Cora pinch-hit for starter Nathan Eovaldi in the top of the sixth.
Kelly has struggled mightily to be consistent the last couple of months, and the trend continued. He was immediately greeted by a leadoff triple by Wilson Ramos, who had a monster night (3-for-4, two doubles, triple) in his debut with the Phillies to continue his reputation as a Red Sox killer.
Ramos fell behind in the count 0-2, then took a ball and belted the fourth pitch of the at-bat, a 98.5-mph heater from Kelly, to right-center. With one out, pinch-hitter Scott Kingery got the go-ahead run home on a sacrifice fly to right.
Even in defeat, Cora could see the big-picture positives, which he shared with his team in a rare postgame meeting. It was the end of a 7-2 road trip for the 86-36 Red Sox, who are 11-2 this month and lead the Yankees by 10 games in the American League East.
"We'll take 7-2 on the road any road trip during the season. I just talked to them," said Cora. "We went through a tough stretch there. Trade Deadline, the Yankees, Toronto with the turf and [four-game series with doubleheader in] Baltimore, and then come here and to do what we did, that was pretty impressive. I'm very proud of them."
From across the field, former Red Sox outfielder and current Phillies manager Gabe Kapler clearly saw some of the same traits that led to the only World Series championship of his career in 2004.
"We have a lot of respect for the Red Sox, not just for the men on the field but for their leadership as well," said Kapler.
The Phillies, who trail the Braves by two games in the NL East, played the Red Sox to a tough 2-2 split this season in the home-and-home series.
"Yeah, they have a good team," Cora said. "They can pitch. Stuff-wise they're pretty good. They attack the zone, too. We know about the two starters Aaron Nola and Jacob Arrieta, they're pretty solid. I think we did a good job tonight against their starter -- it was just a matter that we weren't able to put him away, and that was it."
The Red Sox took the early momentum and got a little bit of a gift in the top of the third when Phillies starter Vince Velasquez walked Eovaldi with one out. It was just the sixth career walk for Eovaldi, who came to the plate with a career on-base percentage of .112. Velasquez, who had epic struggles with his command during the inning, then plunked Andrew Benintendi with an 0-2 pitch. Brock Holt followed with an infield tapper that he beat out to load the bases.
Mitch Moreland came through with the big knock of the inning, a double into the gap in left-center that cleared the bases and made it 3-0.
In the fourth, the Phillies rallied back against Eovaldi, thanks in large part to a throwing error by third baseman Rafael Devers to open the inning. Ramos got the Phillies on the board with an RBI double off the top of the wall. After a fielder's choice RBI grounder sliced the lead to a run, Carlos Santana tied it with an RBI single to right.
The game would soon evolve into a battle of the bullpens, and that edge went to Philadelphia.
"We know this team is good. We had a pretty solid road trip despite losing the last game of it, and it doesn't take away from what we've done this year," said Pomeranz. "This is still a pretty good road trip, seven out of nine. We know we're good. It's just one of those things -- stay positive, get another day off and then get back at them this weekend."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Comeback falls short: Big comebacks have been a signature trait of the 2018 Red Sox, and it looked like they might have another one brewing in the eighth. Down 7-3, the Sox had the bases loaded, and MVP candidate Mookie Betts was called on to pinch-hit. Betts got a two-out, infield hit for an RBI to keep the inning alive. Benintendi had a chance to cut into the deficit even more, but he grounded out, and the rally was over.
Though Eovaldi had a clunker in his previous start in Baltimore, he continues to trend in the right direction. In this one, he gave up seven hits but just one earned run in five innings. The hard-throwing righty has given up no more than one earned run in six of his last nine starts, dating back to June 26.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Benintendi got jammed so thoroughly on a 3-2 sinker by Phillies lefty Aaron Loup in the seventh inning on Wednesday night that the ball managed to hit his bat twice. Even more impressive was that Benintendi managed to fist the ball into center field for a single. Loup has a side-arm delivery that can be tough to read for left-handed hitters.
• Other players who have hit the ball twice with one swing
First, the pitch hit the inner-middle of Benintendi's bat toward the handle, and then it drifted toward the end of the bat, before rolling into center for a hit.
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Red Sox thought they had taken the lead on a grounder to second by pinch-hitter Steve Pearce in the sixth. Cesar Hernandez ranged over to make a nice play, but his throw was wide right, and pulled first baseman Justin Bour off the bag and to the ground just after he gloved it. Pearce was ruled safe, and Devers alertly roared all the way around from second to score. But Kapler challenged the play, and it was overturned when the replay showed Bour keeping the tip of his spike on the bag as he caught the ball to end the inning. It wound up being a big play, as the game was pretty much all Phillies from there.
After an off-day at home on Thursday, the Red Sox open a three-game series against the Rays on Friday night at 7:10 p.m. ET at Fenway Park. Invaluable swingman Christopher Johnson will make the start opposite Ryne Stanek. The lefty is 3-1 with a 3.21 ERA in eight starts this season. Second baseman Ian Kinsler is expected to return from the disabled list on Friday. Kinsler suffered a left hamstring strain in his third game after being traded to the Red Sox.