BOSTON -- Jackie Bradley Jr. started the night by thrilling the Fenway faithful with a cannon throw to the plate to nail Joe Mauer in the first inning.When it came down to the bottom of the ninth, Bradley again had a chance to fill the ballpark with roars, as he
BOSTON -- Jackie Bradley Jr. started the night by thrilling the Fenway faithful with a cannon throw to the plate to nail Joe Mauer in the first inning.
When it came down to the bottom of the ninth, Bradley again had a chance to fill the ballpark with roars, as he stepped up with the bases loaded and two outs and the Red Sox down, 2-1.
But after Twins closer Fernando Rodney fell behind in the count, 3-0, he came back to throw three straight strikes to preserve the victory for Kyle Gibson, who shut down the Boston bats like few starting pitchers have this season.
Bradley looked at the first strike, a 3-1 fastball on the lower, inner half of the zone. Rodney then threw a fastball for strike two on the lower, outer half and Bradley again took it.
For what proved to be the final pitch, Rodney reached back for a 96.9-mph pitch that was on the upper inner portion of the strike zone that Bradley swung through.
"I mean, the guy painted inside on 3-0. Then paints away on 3-1. And then the last pitch, the catcher is setting up down and away, and he throws it up and in. It was a borderline pitch, so there's nothing you could do with that one," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora.
Xander Bogaerts created hope of a comeback when he rifled a leadoff single (109.6-mph exit velocity) against Rodney. There was more hope when Blake Swihart and Brock Holt drew two-out walks to load the bases. But the rally fell short.
WIth the loss, the 71-33 Red Sox lead the Yankees by 4 1/2 games in the American League East.
Thanks to a lethal mix of fastballs, changeups, sliders and curves, Gibson stifled a loaded Boston lineup.
The dangerous top three combination of Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and J.D. Martinez went a combined 1-for-11 against the righty. In fact, Gibson allowed just four hits and a run over eight innings, walking two, striking out seven and throwing a career-high 120 pitches.
Thanks to Bradley, however, the Red Sox were right in it all night.
With one out in the first and Mauer on second, Eduardo Escobar belted a ground single past a diving Holt. Mauer roared around third and figured he could score. However, Bradley unleashed a tremendous throw home that Swihart snared out of the air before tagging Mauer just as he slid in.
"That's Jackie Bradley Jr.," Swihart said. "That's what he does. He's great out there. He's one of the best."
• Mauer gets revenge vs. Bradley
It was the first of two assists on the night for Bradley, who has six for the season. The second was in the sixth, when James Dozier dropped a flyball into center and Bradley threw to third to try to get Eddie Rosario, who was safe. When third baseman Rafael Devers fired to second too late in his attempt to get Dozier, Rosario tried to score. But Holt threw him out.
For the Red Sox, Christopher Johnson was again strong when given the chance to start. He fired 5 2/3 shutout innings, allowing four hits while walking three and striking out five. In six starts this season, Johnson is 1-1 with a 1.80 ERA.
On the heels of Nathan Eovaldi being acquired in a trade from the Rays on Wednesday, Johnson is moving back to the bullpen despite his recent success.
"Just putting my head down and working as hard as I can, and if I have to make a start, then I'll do it," Johnson said. "If I'm in the bullpen, I'll do it. It's part of my role."
The Red Sox weren't able to do much of anything against Gibson, but they did take a 1-0 lead in the second when Swihart scored on a double-play groundout by Betts.
That slight lead stood until the top of the seventh, when the Twins took their turn scoring on a double-play groundout by Ehire Adrianza.
The Twins took the lead in the eighth when Mitch Garver laced an RBI double to left against Matt Barnes.
"One bad pitch," Barnes said. "I thought my stuff was really good tonight. I left it middle in and he put a good swing on it."
WHY NO MORELAND?
Starting first baseman Mitch Moreland had a rare night off against a righty starter because Cora wanted to give him a rest. Was there any thought to using Moreland as a pinch-hitter in the ninth, given his success lifetime (6-for-10) against Rodney?
"We got all the lefties. That pinch-hitting thing is not that easy," Cora said. "We've got men in scoring position with [Devers], and then we felt the at-bats after that were good ones. We weren't going to hit there for Brock. He's a good at-bat there. And Jackie's one of our best hitters the last month. So, I don't think there was a spot there."
The best way to beat the Red Sox is to keep them in the ballpark. Following Thursday's loss, Boston slipped to 15-17 in games without a home run.
HE SAID IT
"No. Zero. I just want to go out there and stick to my game and stick to my game plan with Swihart. There's no extra motivation needed -- it's the big leagues. The motivation is to go out there and do well." -- Johnson, asked if he had extra motivation to try to prove he belongs in the rotation
Ace Chris Sale (11-4, 2.13 ERA), who is in the midst of one of the most dominant stretches of his career, draws the start on Friday at 7:10 p.m. ET. Over his last eight starts, Sale is 6-1 with a 0.83 ERA. That stretch covers 54 innings in which Sale has 10 walks, 87 strikeouts and no home runs allowed. The Twins counter with righty Lance Lynn (7-8, 5.23 ERA).
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.