And so the second-half losing streak hits five.
I come to you with excuses for Brian Johnson, because frankly, he needs them. The line does not look good. Four runs in four innings (and an out) on four walks and three hits. It's ugly, and good for an ERA just under 9.00. Not how Johnson would have wanted to start his major league career, I'm certain.
But excuses he certainly has. It was, after all, the first game Brian Johnson had pitched since July 6th. In fact, going back a bit further, Johnson had pitched all of six innings since June 24th. There is rust, and then there's "pitching for the second time in a month" rust. Now take what would have been rough circumstances already, and add in the fact that this was Johnson's major league debut, and...well, the deck was stacked against him, to say the least.
That explains, perhaps, why Johnson was not his usual self when it came to throwing strikes. Most telling were the number of pitches that sailed very high, getting completely away from Johnson. That's the sign of a pitcher who is jazzed up, perhaps rushing his delivery, and unable to find his release point. No surprise, then, when he spent much of the game behind in the count.
But we know, generally, that Brian Johnson can throw strikes. This is not a part of his game that is in question. What is in question is whether that's enough, given his repertoire, to beat major league hitters, and honestly, I think the signs tonight were reasonably positive in that regard. Mostly because of how good his curveball could be. After giving up a run in the first and working through a dangerous second, Johnson struck out the side in order in the third, all three Ks coming on the curveball. It was the pitch he looked the most comfortable with, and if he's able to control it this well on a night when he was clearly off his game, it seems like the sort of offering that can make Johnson work as a major league starter.
The Sox even got him a lead for a while there, scoring three runs in the third with Mookie Betts finally getting off the schneid courtesy a very lucky RBI double. But the fifth came, and Johnson seemed to wear down a bit, giving the Astros a scoring opportunity that turned into a disaster for Johnson when Jake Marisnick stole second, and met Ryan Hanigan's throw down with his helmet, sending the ball careening into left field. Hanley Ramirez was painfully slow to recover it, and by the time he got the ball back in, the game was tied, 3-3.
And then Justin Masterson came in and it was 5-3 because that's what Justin Masterson does. But who cares? The season is dead in the water, and once Brian Johnson was out of the game, we entered lame duck territory in a hurry. Suffice it to say that Masterson stayed in the game a while longer, and the Red Sox lost by a few more runs than just that.
If the Red Sox may as well be playing spring training games right now, the Astros provided a reminder today that their opponents still have plenty to play for. And if 2012 and 2014 are any indication, there are plenty of games like this to come. When the Sox fold, they fold hard.