All good things must come to an end. So it is that, after seven straight wins, the Red Sox fell to the Indians 3-2 Monday night.
That being said, did it have to come to an end tonight? Was this a game that could not have been won? Probably not.
The Red Sox entered this game as favorites, it's safe to say. Both teams are below .500, but the Sox had been on a tear, and the pitching matchup featured a John Lackey in the middle of a very strong season and a Justin Masterson in the middle of a complete train wreck of one. All things considered, a fair few things were going to have to go the Indians way for this to turn out the way it did.
So what happened? Justin Masterson can be given some credit for righting the ship. Check out the clustering in that one corner, low-and-in against lefties, low-and-away against righties. Masterson has often had trouble getting the ball inside against lefties for much of his career, but he managed that tonight, and against right-handers he's often just not fair.
That being said...the Red Sox hardly did everything they could against him. In the first, Masterson simply could not find the zone. The Sox managed to load up the bases with two outs against him. But here's where we come to one of the game's biggest issues: Jonny Gomes. Jonny Gomes can't hit righties--it's well documented--and Justin Masterson is particularly good at getting exactly that type of player out. Gomes managed to get the count to 3-0, but given that he proceeded to watch three straight strikes to end the inning, it seems likely that this was as much due to his inability to see the ball out of Masterson's hand as anything else.
So it was that the Red Sox failed to take advantage of Masterson's early struggles. And in the bottom half of the inning, they paid for it. John Lackey, too, had difficulty out of the gates, failing to find the zone with his fastball early on, and finding no relief from his curveball when he tried to turn to it. Ultimately it was just a weak flare to left that scored two runs off of Lackey, but it was the two walks to Michaels Bourn and Brantley that set him up for the fall.
The Red Sox would let Masterson off the hook again in the third, A.J. Pierzynski grounding into a double play to end what had been a promising start to the inning. And the Indians would once again succeed where the Red Sox failed, cashing in on a leadoff triple from Michael Bourn (Jackie Bradley's leaping attempt coming up short after taking a rather circuitous route) when Asdrubal Cabrera hit a ground ball into right.
From there, both pitchers settled down. But if Masterson did make plenty of good pitches, it really does feel like the Red Sox let him off the hook for each and every bad one. There were pitches up in the zone that could have been hit. The Sox simply...didn't. The fourth would even see Masterson retire the side with three strikeouts on nine pitches--the historic feat known as an "immaculate inning." Jonny Gomes, fittingly enough, provided the first of the three. Lackey, for his part, was his usual self after the rough start, finishing eight innings without allowing another run.
Masterson would finally leave the game after the seventh inning, and the Red Sox did take advantage of his departure. With Brock Holt on base ahead of him, Xander Bogaerts crushed a Bryan Shaw fastball that caught all of the plate, hitting his fourth home run of the season to bring the Red Sox within a run. But Cody Allen made short work of them in the ninth, with John Farrell not so much as bothering to pinch hit for Gomes against the right-handed Allen, leading to his third strikeout of the night.
There will be off days for teams against pitchers they should probably hit. There will be good days for struggling pitchers. To some extent, that is the story of this game. But to some extent it's also a game given away by not taking full advantage of the resources at hand. Justin Masterson is a pitcher who a manager can gameplan against. It just doesn't seem like John Farrell really did that.
Do we win this game with a lefty hitting in Jonny Gomes' place? I don't know. But it's hard to imagine that Boston's chances of scoring in the first wouldn't have been improved by sending one to the plate there. When the process is correct and the results are bad, that's one thing. But when the process is wrong and the results are bad, the what ifs will drive you mad.