The Rays have swept Thursday's day - night doubleheader with a 6-5 victory over the Red Sox, sending Boston tumbling to three games below .500. Far from putting their early-season struggles behind them with the beginning of the new month, the Red Sox have instead doubled down.to start May.
After suffering defeat in the day game, the last thing the Red Sox could afford was for Felix Doubront to have another disaster outing. That, at least, they managed to avoid, but just barely. The lefty flirted with disaster in the second, but managed to get Ryan Hanigan to ground out to limit the damage in that frame to just the one run. A third-inning Desmond Jennings homer left the Red Sox in a 2-0 deficit, but Doubront managed to get through the next couple of innings without too much trouble.
After stranding Shane Victorino at third with one out in the first, the Red Sox had gone quiet against Chris Archer. They finally managed to break through in the sixth, loading the bases with three walks and getting their first run of the game when Shane Victorino took a pitch to the arm. David Ortiz followed up by beating the shift, and line drive singles from Mike Napoli and Grady Sizemore put the Red Sox up 5-2 before the inning finally came to an end with Grady Sizemore getting picked off first.
That lead would get small in a hurry, however. An error from Will Middlebrooks allowed Evan Longoria to reach first, and Doubront was once again victimized by the home run, this time coming off the bat of Sean Rodriguez to bring the Rays within a run. Two innings later and Rodriguez was once again in the thick of things, producing a two-out double off of Junichi Tazawa and then scoring on a James Loney single. Why Farrell chose to stick with Tazawa (who had already recorded five outs) rather than going to a lefty against Loney is anyone's guess.
Less questionable was the decision to turn to Koji Uehara in the ninth inning of a tie game. Somehow, though, that choice turned out no better. Yunel Escobar blasted a go-ahead solo shot off the usually surefire closer, and just like that everything had come completely undone for the Red Sox.
They had their chances to win this game. Three times they had one out and a man on third, including in the eighth and ninth innings. The three at bats, from David Ortiz, Will Middlebrooks, and Mike Napoli, resulted in a pop-up and two strikeouts. The Red Sox did not need to be good situational hitters tonight. Even bad situational hitters manage at least a ground ball in one of three such at bats. But Boston didn't manage so much as a play at the plate.
There's no clear line for when "slumping" and "struggling" turns into "just not our season". And it's not at 12-15. The 2011 Red Sox were 12-15, and as bad as that turned out, they still managed to win 90 games. But every time this team takes two steps forward and two steps back it gets harder to believe that eventually that will become three steps forward and one step back.
When the 2013 Red Sox were not blowing opponents out, they were the team that just managed to win. They found the run they needed when they needed it. No deficit was too great to overcome. The 2014 Red Sox seem like a team that remembers what they once were, but just can't pull it off anymore. On the one hand, that means a turnaround could require little more than a small step. On the other hand, it might just be that they've lost that magic which saw so many of their players perform to the absolute best of their abilities. That frankly could not be called a surprising turn of events, just a depressing one.