A brief glimpse of hope vanished in a flash Friday night, as the Red Sox fell to a fourth straight loss against a superior Tigers team.
For two innings, it felt like last week again. The Red Sox scored early, Xander Bogaerts coming just shy of a two-run homer as he drove Brock Holt in with a wall ball double to give the Red Sox a 1-0 lead. Rubby De La Rosa retired the first six batters he faced, and seemed to just be getting better as he went along, working in his at times overwhelming changeup to strike out Alex Avila and Austin Jackson back-to-back to end the second.
Then the third came, and two ground balls were all it took to undo Boston's lead. Where Bogaerts had used a blast to left to score the first run of the game, it was ultimately a four-bounce single past Dustin Pedroia that erased it. Whether that shook Rubby, or he simply found himself facing the middle of the order the second time through, the fourth inning went worse. His changeup was still doing work, but that just left the Tigers sitting on his fastball. Two straight line drives started the inning, and only by doubling up Miguel Cabrera on a run-scoring sacrifice fly did the Red Sox prevent the other two singles of the inning from costing De La Rosa any more runs.
If the third-inning run had looked like a fluke, the fourth-inning run had been the best possible outcome of a near disaster. So when the fifth inning saw things get worse still, it was more the natural next step than any great shock. What was surprising was that it was a meatball of a changeup that Ian Kinsler took deep to make it a 3-1 Tigers lead before Torii hunter clobbered a flat fastball into the stands in right to make it back-to-back shots.
That was all she wrote for this one, more or less. Rubby wouldn't allow another run in getting two outs into the sixth, though he would walk his first two batters of the game while striking out his fourth and fifth. Essentially, though, that was just window dressing. While the Red Sox had managed a baserunner in every inning except the third, it wouldn't be until the sixth that they cashed in again against Smyly, and only then because of an errant throw from Tigers shortstop Andrew Romine. A Jonny Gomes sacrifice fly made it 4-2, and that was as close as it would get.
While the Red Sox would not score again, the Tigers would, beating up on Chris Capuano in a very short outing to make it 6-2. That's only so much insult to injury, though. A two-run loss is as bad as a four-run loss, particularly when the Red Sox seem to have such a low likelihood of pushing across any given baserunner in any given inning. With the Sox playing he way they are right now, Rubby was the real reason to be excited for this game, and for all that his changeup provided a reminder of what made his last outing so enthralling, he needs to get his fastball down if he's going to have prolonged success.
With four straight losses, the Red Sox are now firmly back in losing streak mode. When seven straight victories can't turn a season around, you really have to wonder if anything can.