Red Sox fans entered Friday night's game with a sense of optimism. Perhaps more so than in any game since May. The Sox had been rolling into this series against New York, and if everything went well, they could be within striking distance by the All-Star Break.
It was a peak. The highest the Red Sox had been in a very long time. And one game should not be enough to undo the general positive feelings. And yet, the Red Sox may have found a way.
It's not about the defeat. Not in particular. It's not about the lineup getting shut down by a pitcher with a 115:13 K:BB. That's the sort of thing that can happen. It's about Clay Buchholz leaving the game with elbow tightness in the fourth, and all the terribleness that could entail.
Buchholz was already behind 1-0 after a first-inning homer from Alex Rodriguez, and was ultimately tagged for three total, with the other two unearned in what could politely be called an abomination of a fourth inning defensively speaking that eventually produced three for the Yankees, making it 4-0.
Mookie Betts was the only member of the Red Sox to touch home, doing it all himself by hitting a solo shot over the Monster. 4-1. The Yankees responded in the eighth to get it back to a 4-run lead, and that was all she wrote.
That's not terribly important. It's one game. A game that puts the Red Sox 6.5 back instead of 4.5 back, but the series can still be won, and a step forward would be a step forward.
What matters now is that Clay Buchholz is missing, and it's not clear there's anything serious to this right elbow tightness. It's possible the casualty here will be a few innings, and one game.
But right elbow tightness is one of the frightening ones, and if there's one thing that has been true about this Red Sox team, it's that if it can go wrong, it will. It's a year that has earned mountain until proven molehill, and until Clay Buchholz is back on the mound--remember, he had a Cy Young season undone by sleeping funny--the story of this game will be a disaster. Not for the score or the standings, but for the greater implications.
If Buchholz is legitimately hurt--if he's set to miss any significant period of time--all this momentum can likely be written off as a dead cat bounce. Sadder still, it will not be because they didn't prove to have some of the elements needed to turn their season around. The Red Sox were already in dire need of pitching, and losing their best arm would leave them with, effectively, two starting pitchers. Maybe with Buchholz still rolling, with a series win, with a good start to the second half, you can justify making the three they have into four, and then bringing Brian Johnson up to try and make it five.
Without? Without Buchholz, there's not even a real foundation on which to build any potential rotation.
If you didn't hear the fat lady's song a month back, prepare yourself. It still might not come, but if it does, it will be in the form we hadn't expected: not a loss, but a diagnosis.