Every baseball season starts out as a sequel to the previous year. While the offseason might modify expectations somewhat, a team that won the World Series enters with a feeling of optimism--a feeling that when things can go right, there's a decent chance they will. A team that lost 100 games will, on the other hand, expect everything that can go wrong to do so.
Last night, there wasn't much that went right for the Red Sox. Andy Pettitte was relentless in pounding the zone, and the Sox, even when they hit it hard, couldn't quite find the right spot. Brett Gardner chased down just about everything that wasn't hit directly at Kevin Youkilis or snagged out of the air by Eduardo Nunez. One of Boston's best chances went by the wayside when Shane Victorino hustled them out of the first by trying to take two bases on a passed ball.
Meanwhile, Ryan Dempster struggled to find consistency and control. Half of the time he was striking batters out, the other half allowing loud fly balls to the track or, indeed, beyond. Unfortunately, Victorino and Ellsbury didn't quite get to them as well as Brett Gardner--perhaps due to unfamiliarity--and in the end it was a blow out.
Except it wasn't. The Red Sox lost, yes, but they lost with the tying run at the plate. They lost because David Ross' long fly ball didn't quite make it out, or because Jackie Bradley Jr. got a rookie call on the outside part of the plate. Make no mistake, the Red Sox lost this game fair and square, but the point is it was a loss of inches rather than miles.
And it's there we can find positives even in defeat. No, the Yankees aren't the stiffest competition right now, and yes, it would have been nice to see the Red Sox actually do something with all the strikes Pettitte was throwing. On the whole, though, if the team had to lose on to the Yankees, well, at least they went down fighting in a close one.
At the moment, this is still the sequel to the 2012 season for many of us. The effects of last year haven't...worn off. And if the 2013 Red Sox end up struggling, they might not. But with more performances like the first three--wins that are big, losses that are reasonable--that will start to change. Last night's loss feels like the sort of game that would have been seven-run loss for the 2012 Red Sox. Dempster would have crumbled, the bullpen would have surrendered six in the seventh, and there would have been no fight back in those last few innings. Much like how they would have lost Wednesday's game, Thursday's would have been so much worse.
So far the 2013 Red Sox haven't shown us that kind of game. Admittedly, it's only a matter of time, but the longer we go without one the more likely it is that they'll be the exception, rather than the rule.