On a fundamental level, baseball is about failure. The best batters will succeed in not making an out only 40% of the time. Most major league pitchers allow at least one run, and often many more, to score. The criteria for pitching a perfect game - no hits, no walks, no hit batsmen, no errors - are so difficult to meet that this feat has only been pulled off 17 times in over 120 years of baseball history. An elite season in baseball is 95 victories, a 58.6% winning percentage; in basketball or football, elite playoff contenders may win 80% or more of their games (07 Pats: 16-0, 07 C's: 66-16).
The last series against the Rays is difficult to accept unless you acknowledge the predominance of failure in baseball. After winning game one, I was accepting of any outcome, as at most the Sox would only face a net loss of one game. But games two and three were eminently winnable games that fell apart.
On Tuesday, after disappointing performances from both starters, Jason Bay gave us the lead in spectacular fashion. The stage was set for Papelbon, who had pitched intensely in both of the previous games. Paps was evidently tired, missing location and leaving balls up. It didn't help that he had to face Dan Johnson, a hitter with good discipline and power. [Aside: how the hell did Johnson clear waivers twice in the Rays' favor?] But he could've been facing an all-Alex Cora lineup and it wouldn't have mattered, considering the way he was pitching. Hideki Okajima may have been a better choice to pitch in that situation - he wasn't overworked, and has been pretty good of late.
Wednesday's game was even worse, and there was plenty of blame to go around. The entire offense performed anemically, even some of our best hitters (Ortiz, Youk, Bay and Lowell were 0 for 17, with 5 BB). And Francona made bad decisions. Generally I like him as a manager, but like most he has vulnerabilities, and this game showed off one of them: using pinch-runners. In the 7th, Coco Crisp pinch ran for Jason Varitek. Coco's been on-fire lately and he should have started the game to begin with, but using him to run for one inning and then throwing in Kevin Cash is beyond stupid. In a tight game, at least Tek can hit one out, something our backup really can't do.
Then, in the 9th inning, when Mike Lowell reached base, Tito pinch-ran Cora for him. This was inexcusable. Cora has no speed. Cora has no range. And Cora can't hit for power. Mike Lowell can at least hit homers, which is an important thing in a tied game at home, I hear. And he's a better hitter than Cora, which might matter if the #6 spot came up in an important situation. Like trailing by two runs with two outs in the inning and two men on, for example.
Some luck and better management might have helped us win on Tuesday or Wednesday. But the fact that neither loss was lopsided encourages me. The Rays won the series, but could just as easily have lost all three games. With injured players returning, and a squad that has weathered adversity, the Red Sox are still well-placed to make the playoffs, and even win it all. In a season with so many failures, small and large, we can still overcome and prevail. That's one thing I love about baseball.
Consider this a post-mortem thread for the Rays series, and feel free to add your own thoughts or vehement disagreements. And don't forget to answer the poll.