And with the 90th game of the season, the Red Sox made their intentions clear: number one draft pick or bust!
It's telling when this is the more comfortable interpretation of what we just saw unfolding on the field. While the 8-3 loss to Chicago was hardly the worst defeat the Red Sox have suffered recently, it was jam packed with all the stuff that makes them so painful to watch with an eye to winning these days, to say nothing of everything that makes it feel like they just want to lose.
The most extreme example comes from the top of the second, when the White Sox got on the board. Brandon Workman legitimately got himself in trouble, allowing three straight batters to reach base. But when Workman managed to get a ground ball to the usually sure-handed Mike Napoli, it seemed like the Sox would have at least a guaranteed out at home, and perhaps a double play.
So when Napoli proceeds to scoop the ball, have it pop out of his glove on the transfer, and then fails to even recover to record the out at first--when a man paid to play the game of baseball and did it so well last year makes the sort of defensive gaffe you'd expect to see on a field where home plate is 45 feet from the mound and 200 from the outfield wall, you start to wonder. Maybe you even start to hope it's part of the plan, because with so many silly infield mistakes costing the Red Sox so many runs over these past few games, it's actually more comforting to think they're just trying to lose rather than simply incapable of playing better.
That it came right on the back of Jonny Gomes grounding into a double play when the Red Sox had the bases loaded themselves in the top of the first just hints at that artistic bent we've seen out of them at other times this year. Why simply lose when you can do so with such panache?
Workman would actually manage to get out of the second allowing just one more run. It was a Houdini act that would have been good for a scoreless frame but for Napoli's blunder. Less questionable was the run he allowed in the fourth, though the RBI single from Alejandro De Aza was little more than a two-out bloop over Stephen Drew's head.
We had our one brief moment. It lasted for six at bats in the fifth inning, when the Red Sox woke up and realized John Danks is not the pitcher he used to be five years ago. Brock Holt, Dustin Pedroia, and Mike Napoli all provided extra base hits, with Jonny Gomes and Xander Bogaerts tacking on singles in a three-run attack. And had David Ortiz gotten just a bit more on his fly ball to center field, we might be talking about a very different game.
But he did not, and we are not. The inning ended with the game tied at three, and in typical 2014 Red Sox fashion that meant a White Sox rally in the top of the sixth. Conor Gillaspie took Brandon Workman deep to right, and that was that: 5-3 White Sox, and Boston's small offensive quota for the night spent. By the time the White Sox tacked on three more in the ninth, there was little expectation Boston would mount any kind of comeback attempt.
The good news? Well, if they are tanking, they did a bang up job of it. They started the day just three games out of last place, and right now the Astros and Rangers are locked in an impressive "who wants it less" contest which will leave the Red Sox closer to "overtaking" whichever one happens to win tonight.
The bad news? They probably weren't. This was actually the Red Sox trying their hardest. And we've got 72 games of it left to endure before it's over.