Weakened 'pen left with holes too big to plug

Weakened 'pen left with holes too big to plug

DETROIT -- A combination of illness, bereavement and injuries left the Red Sox unusually thin for Friday's contest at Comerica Park, but manager John Farrell's team was still in position to win after a rousing five-run rally in the top of the eighth inning.

That's what made a 6-5 loss to the Tigers in their home opener more painful.

After a dramatic three-run homer by Pablo Sandoval, Boston's bullpen was four outs away from a character-building victory. Instead, the relief crew couldn't fill the void left by some missing cast members, and the Tigers rallied for a pair to win it.

Panda's three-run long ball

Tyler Thornburg, acquired to be the primary setup man, is on the 10-day disabled list with a right shoulder impingement. Hard-throwing righty Matt Barnes is on the bereavement list as he mourns the passing of his grandmother. Lefty Robbie Ross Jr. was so impacted by influenza he was placed on the DL for the start of this series.

"Still, there's quality stuff," Farrell said. "It's a matter of going out and trusting, and executing pitches."

Farrell's plan to piece together the final two innings started with Heath Hembree, who opened the eighth.

That got off to an auspicious start, when Hembree struck out Nicholas Castellanos and Miguel Cabrera.

The Red Sox didn't know it at the time, but the day was about to unravel just after Cabrera whiffed.

Hembree erased the impact of his strikeouts by walking the next two batters, Victor Martinez and Justin Upton.

"Got those two outs to lead off the inning and I still feel like I threw some pretty good pitches to the next two guys," Hembree said. "They had some good takes on some pitches, and [it] just didn't go my way. It's pretty tough, especially when you get two quick outs like that and give up the lead right there. You've got to be able to make pitches and finish it out."

Lefty Robby Scott got the next chance in an opportunity that normally could have gone to Ross, but he gave up the only hit of the inning -- a game-tying RBI double to Mikie Mahtook.

Mahtook's game-tying RBI double

"We were trying to get a breaking ball down there, and left it up in the zone," Scott said. "Execution. I've got to be better at that. In my shoes, I've got to be better. I let the team down."

Farrell said if the Red Sox were a little deeper into the season, he might have enlisted closer Craig Kimbrel for a four-out save.

Instead, he went to Joe Kelly, the veteran of the three pitchers deployed in that fateful eighth. Kelly walked James McCann and rookie JaCoby Jones consecutively, and Detroit was back in the lead for good.

For Kelly, it was a chance to earn more responsibility in the late innings on the heels of his strong, two-inning performance for the win in Wednesday's 12-inning thriller over the Pirates.

While the offense was able to overcome the loss of the flu-ridden Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez, not to mention shortstop Xander Bogaerts (bereavement), the bullpen wasn't as fortunate.

"We've got some guys sick, and obviously Barnesy with his grandma," Kelly said. "It's important to me. It doesn't feel good right now, but hopefully we'll go back out there tomorrow, we'll all pitch again and go out there and dominate."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.