BOSTON -- Adrian Gonzalez at the plate with the game on the line not once, but twice? This is a situation the Red Sox, not to mention Gonzalez himself, will look for as often as they can throughout the course of the season.
But when opportunity knocked for Gonzalez multiple times on Wednesday night, he just happened to be mired in a rare slump, and he didn't come through.
The Red Sox were defeated by the Oakland Athletics, 4-2, in the rubber match of a three-game series, and starting pitcher Daniel Bard took the loss -- at least in the boxscore.
But in the clubhouse after the game, with reporters surrounding him, a stand-up Gonzalez put this loss right on his shoulders.
"This game is all on me," Gonzalez said. "I had two great opportunities and I didn't come through. It was one of those things. I'll make a definite point to not let that happen [again]."
By going 0-for-4, Gonzalez's average dipped to .250. He enters Thursday's off-day hitless in his last 17 at-bats.
It's just one of those things that happens over a long season. Even someone like Gonzalez, who often looks as if he was born to hit, can go through a slump.
"Just a click off in the timing department," Gonzalez said. "I'm just a little late on fastballs; just a little early on offspeed pitches. It happens. We've got a big series coming up with Baltimore. I'll be sure to be right then."
In the loss, some things did go right for Boston. Most noteworthy was the Major League debut of top prospect Will Middlebrooks, who contributed with his first stolen base, first hit and first extra-base hit.
"It was unbelievable," Middlebrooks said. "Words can't describe it. Just coming here and playing in Fenway Park and with these guys, it was unreal."
A less heralded player making his debut in a Boston uniform was no less impressive. Clayton Mortensen, the player the Red Sox traded Marco Scutaro for back in January, came on in relief of Bard and fired three dazzling innings, allowing one hit while striking out six.
"I'd say I have had the capability of striking guys out, but tonight was just one of those nights where things were working," said Mortensen, who was promoted from Triple-A Pawtucket. "Guys weren't seeing the ball well and I was able to locate in and out and mix up speeds. Keep them off balance and maybe get something down in the zone, execute a pitch here and there, execute a swing and a miss."
As for Bard, he went 5 1/3 innings, allowing eight hits and four runs while walking two and striking out one. He is 2-3 with a 4.38 ERA in five games, four of them starts.
"Yeah, I just had a hard time putting guys away," said Bard. "I felt like -- especially early in the game -- I was getting to a lot of 0-2 and 1-2 counts. I would make those pitches on the edges of the zone, and for whatever reason, I wasn't getting chases. They were fouling off, and they'd work it until I left something over the plate. I was a little bewildered coming out. I just think, looking at how I felt and the results, the one thing I think could have been better was establishing the breaking ball a little more."
While the Red Sox never led in this game, Mortensen's stellar relief effort gave the bats a chance for a comeback.
Brandon McCarthy was brilliant for the A's for most of the night, but the Red Sox finally wore him down in the seventh, as he left following 113 pitches.
Down 4-1 with two outs, Dustin Pedroia loaded the bases by drawing a walk against Ryan Cook.
Gonzalez had the chance to be a hero. Instead, he struck out on a 1-2 slider. It isn't often you see Gonzalez react with emotion on the field, but he fired his bat down in disgust following that strikeout.
"That was a good pitch that Adrian usually fouls off at least. I think he was really surprised that he swung and missed that," manager Bobby Valentine said.
Cook, it should be noted, has been lights-out for Oakland.
"Disgusting," McCarthy said of Cook's arsenal. "He's starting to venture into silly territory. There are not many people in the game of baseball that really get even in that neighborhood. His stuff is really good."
In the ninth, the Sox again put a scare into the A's. Mike Aviles started the last-gasp rally with a one-out infield single against Brian Fuentes. With two outs, Pedroia roped an RBI double off the Green Monster and Boston was within two.
Up stepped Gonzalez, who could tie the game with one swing. Instead, he grounded out to third baseman Brandon Inge, who was shifted over into the shortstop hole.
"I think he's just tired," Valentine suspected. "He's played the entire time. His timing and recognition of the strike zone is just a little off. He'll be fine."
Gonzalez said that fatigue -- both physical and mental -- isn't any kind of issue for him.
"Not at all," Gonzalez said. "I feel great. It's one of those things that it's just two at-bats, I should have come through at least one of those times and I wasn't able to. I feel great physically, I feel great. ... I'm not tired at all. I just didn't come through. It won't happen again."
One thing the Red Sox will never tire of is seeing Gonzalez at the plate with the game on the line.
"That's the at-bat we want," Pedroia said. "We'll take it a million times. We've got our best hitter up there with guys on. I didn't have a problem with him striking out. That's the best one we've got. He'll start swinging the bat great. He's the last guy I'm worried about."