At first this felt like a game that we would be blaming on those old Baseball Gods. Red Sox line drives finding gloves, Yankees choppers weaving their way past fielders--if you could pin it on luck, chances are it was going in the Yankees' favor.
But then, as the game went on, they went out and earned that loss. Oh my did they ever.
The problems with this game can be divided up into three categories: pitching, defense, and baserunning.
The problem with the pitching was not John Lackey. He ended the game with four of New York's five earned runs, but anyone actually watching can tell you he deserved better. Once again, Lackey looked every bit Boston's best (non-Buchholz division), holding the Yankees down through the first four innings, allowing mostly junk hits that missed gloves by inches. Sometimes two gloves in one play. The strikeouts were coming, the pitch count was under control, everything was working.
It wasn't until the fifth inning that John Lackey would surrender a run, and then it was on a wild pitch allowing Luis Cruz to reach second, and a flare just past a diving Dustin Pedroia that let him come home.
If John Lackey actually struggled at an point, it was in the seventh, when he gave up a leadoff double to Eduardo Nunez, and then a pair of hits to Luis Cruz and Brett Gardner around a Chris Stewart ground out. And if Matt Thornton had come on and done his job, then Lackey would've come away looking, if not squeaky clean, then at the very least quite good.
Unfortunately, Thornton's second outing with the Red Sox went little better than his first, and both runners ended up scoring, leaving Lackey with four runs to his name. It's too early to close the book on him as a potential contributing member, but Thornton's first two games have not inspired any faith in his ability to record outs.
The defense, on the other hand, didn't really play much of a role in the loss. But it was aggravating. A wild pitch contributed to the first New York run of the game, a stolen base and Dustin Pedroia error to the last. There was some seriously poor play from Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate, and a fair few fly balls to right that you have to imagine Shane Victorino might have gotten to were he there instead of Daniel Nava.
Really, though, if you want to talk about the thing that cost the Red Sox a chance at winning this one, it was baserunning. While it felt like a while since the team had run into outs--something they had been doing all-too-often this year--there was really no reason to make up for lost time like they did tonight.
It started in the very first inning, when Daniel Nava was gunned down at home on a David Ortiz single by a mile-and-a-half. While it may have seemed like a stumble around the bag was the culprit, it was a doomed attempt in the first place, with Brian Butterfield sending him despite Vernon Wells having the ball with Nava still four steps away from the bag. One of the worst sends in recent memory, and we've had some bad ones.
In the fifth, the Red Sox again found themselves making the final out at home. At least this time the thought process behind the attempt was better, with a ball bouncing to the backstop giving Mike Carp plenty of reason to try it. Chris Stewart found Hiroki Kuroda just in time, however, and the slow-footed Carp was rightfully called out.
Frankly, though, the worst may have come in the eighth inning, courtesy again of Daniel Nava. While Butterfield was likely responsible for the first out, however, Nava has to shoulder the blame for this one. Representing the tying run, Daniel Nava took off for second base when Dustin Pedroia lifted a pop-up behind home plate and sent Chris Stewart lunging into the stands to make the grab. Stewart turned, fired, and caught Nava without too much trouble.
David Ortiz was up next.
David Ortiz, the guy known for his clutch homers, was robbed of the chance to tie the game in exchange for a gamble on getting Nava to a position where he might be more likely to score on a base hit. It was all-out, hard-playing intensity. And it was insanely stupid. Credit Nava for having his heart in the right place, blame him for having his head so far out of it.
In the end it would be Mariano Rivera who shut the door on the Red Sox, but it's hard to feel like the Red Sox did not shut the door on themselves. For all that the line drives did not find green grass, for all that the Yankees scored on a weaker-than-usual version of the classic nickle-and-dime routine, the Sox still did a pretty great job of driving the nail in.
The lead in the division is down to 1.5 after a wasted John Lackey start, but the Red Sox, for all their faults, are a better team than this. The baserunning, the line drive outs, the shock of a bad defensive play from Dustin Pedroia--all these are side effects of hitting the ball hard, getting on base, and generally being a good baseball team. They took it to an extreme today--one which should not be revisited anytime soon--but also one that is not terribly likely to be.
There's no telling whether Ryan Dempster can beat CC Sabathia tomorrow. But we'll very likely get a performance with fewer outright gaffes and more representative of two teams actually playing baseball at the highest level. And it's that knowledge which keeps us after a mess like today.