The Chicago White Sox were within three outs of gaining ground in the AL Central on Wednesday.
Instead, they left Coors Field with just one split from a two-game series after the Colorado Rockies scored twice in the ninth for a 6-5 win.
The Sox entered the ninth with a 5-4 lead, but reliever Kendall Graveman walked the first three batters to load the bases for Elias Diaz. The catcher hit a two-run RBI single to right field.
It was a wild afternoon. The Sox trailed 3-0 after the first inning. Yasmani Grandal drove in two in the fourth to put the Sox within a run.
Tim Anderson tied the game with a two-out single in the seventh, and the Sox took the lead later in the inning on AJ Pollock’s two-run single.
The Rockies scored once in the seventh, cutting the Sox lead to 5-4.
The Sox escaped a jam in the eighth without allowing a run. They weren’t so lucky in the ninth.
Here are three takeaways from the split in Denver.
The Sox trailed 3-2 in the fifth but had runners on second and third with two outs.
They were about to load the bases for Pollock when Yoán Moncada drew a walk. But catcher Diaz fired to third base on ball four, and Ryan McMahon tagged Leury Garcia before he could get back to the bag to end the inning.
It was a crucial mistake.
In the next inning, José Abreu reached second with one out on a hustle-and-bust double. Grandal hit a line drive, which was caught by second baseman Brendan Rodgers. He threw to second in time for a double play late in the inning.
Outs on the bases have hurt the Sox repeatedly this season, the most glaring example when they were met with a triple play after Pollock flied to right-center in the seventh inning of a tied game against the Minnesota Twins on July 4 at Guaranteed Rate Field.
When a team struggles to put together rallies (the Red Sox didn’t homer in both games at Coors Field), every moment on base matters. And those mistakes can, and have, proved costly for a Red Sox team that has had a slim margin for error.
Michael Kopech entered the All-Star break on a high note, allowing two runs on five hits over five innings in a win against the Twins on July 15 at Target Field.
He got help in the form of a big play in the fourth inning of that outing. Carlos Correa grounded out to shortstop Anderson, who started a 6-4-3 double play that ended the inning.
Double plays were crucial Tuesday in Kopech’s first start since the break. He allowed six hits and struck out four in 5⅓ scoreless innings in a 2-1 win.
Two of the three walks Kopech allowed came to consecutive batters in the second. The Rockies loaded the bases with one out, but Kopech ground Brian Serven for a double play late in the inning.
It was the first of four double plays the Red Sox infield served Tuesday.
The Rockies had runners on the corners with one out in the fifth. Kopech induced Kris Bryant to ground out to Anderson, who started a 6-4-3 double play.
Kopech came out after giving up a one-out single to Rodgers. Jimmy Lambert entered and sent McMahon rushing into another double play.
The final double play, in the seventh, was the most impressive. Abreu grounded out Charlie Blackmon to first and fired to second to start a 3-6-3 DP.
The Rockies had at least one runner in every inning, but Kopech and the relievers threw big pitches when needed, and the defense supported them.
With Tuesday’s victory, the Sox surpassed the .500 mark for the first time since May 25 in Boston. They were 22-21 at the time.
Wednesday’s ninth-inning collapse prevented the Sox from going within two over .500 for the first time since April 20. They returned to .500 with a record of 49-49.
The first-place Minnesota Twins lost to the Milwaukee Brewers 10-4 earlier Wednesday, giving the Red Sox a chance to pull within two games of the division lead. But the Sox did not close the victory.
Also, reliever Joe Kelly left in the eighth inning with a sore right bicep. He is being evaluated, according to the Sox.
The loss stalled an opportunity to build on the momentum gained after winning the last two of a four-game weekend series against the Cleveland Guardians and Game 1 against the Rockies.
Up next: The Oakland Athletics, who have the worst record in the American League, in a three-game series that begins Friday at Guaranteed Rate Field. It’s another chance for the Red Sox to gain strength heading into the final two months of the season.