Clay Buchholz was close--so very close--to establishing some momentum. He'd been solid in his last start out, and through four innings, he'd been quite good against the Astros. They'd scored just the one run in the second, and that by virtue of an infield single. The fourth itself had been arguably the best inning he'd pitched on the year. He was hitting his spots with some nasty pitches, making the Astros look downright silly at times.
Then he led off the fifth with a walk. That's fine. The next two batters went down without too much trouble, and Buchholz was one out away from getting away with it. Dustin Pedroia tried to get him into the fifth with a diving play on a hard hit back up the middle, but could only knock the ball down. Still, just one out to go. He clipped Carlos Correa with an inside changeup. Alright, well...just get Rasmus, everything will be fine.
2-0 count. Oh God, are we really doing this? Curveball, swung on and missed badly. Another curveball, another ugly swing to bring the count to 2-2. Christian Vazquez has found the answer! We're gonna get out of this.
The 2-2 pitch? Fastball over the plate. Crushed, bat flipped, ball gone, grand slam, good night.
Clay Buchholz was so very, very close. But much as with Blake Swihart against Mark Trumbo a couple starts back, one ill-advised pitch proved the difference between a turn-around start and just another in the 2016 series of disasters. That's not how this was supposed to work.
The Red Sox, to that point, had one run to their names. The game had started off looking a lot like Friday's series opener, with the Sox wasting a big opportunity in the first after getting their one, failing to bring home a second despite having men on the corners with zero outs. From there, though, it had been all Fiers in the middle innings, with Boston managing little more than an infield single from Dustin Pedroia. They had some hard contact--Mookie Betts seems to be incapable of producing much else at this point--but it died on the warning track or found a glove with perfectly imperfect placement.
Suddenly facing a rather large deficit after Rasmus' slam, the Sox did manage to put together a promising rally, loading the bases with one out and chasing Fiers. They even had Brock Holt get to a 3-0 count. But his hard contact also held up just shy of the wall in left, leaving the Red Sox with only the sacrifice fly, and Chris Young grounded out sharply to third to end the threat with the Sox still trailing by three.
The Red Sox would come a bit closer in the seventh when Josh Rutledge picked up a pinch-hit double down the left field line to make it 5-3, but just as quickly Roenis Elias would give the run back to the Astros in the bottom of the inning, and then some, as the Astros doubled all over the place to make it 8-3, and that was that.
It's not great right now, Red Sox fans. And for every sign that there are some answers on the horizon, we seem to have another one leaving those answers in doubt. Is there a winning team here, buried in the muck? My logical side tells me yes. That there are a number of very good pieces here. Enough to stay above .500 if they can just minimize the impact of the real pitfalls on the roster. That if David Price and the back end of the bullpen were pulling their weight we'd be something like 10-7 right now and ready to make the moves necessary at the deadline to push into October.
But the other side watches how regularly things fall apart, and despairs that there are no changes on the horizon. That the players who have started strong will likely fall off to mitigate the resurgence of those pieces that can't help but be better over the long haul, and that it's just going to be another year running in place.
Something needs to change. Personnel? Management? Attitude? Pre-game spread? Maybe they just need to get healthy. But as it stands, even just one game under .500, there's an unmistakable atmosphere around these Red Sox. It feels...not so much like 2015. Not yet, at least. Instead, even if it's the pitching that's the biggest let-down thus far, it's a distinctly 2014 atmosphere. One without the great Sandovalian villains of 2015. The slow realization that this team just has a penchant for losing, saving their worst performances for the moments when they will deal the most damage, and squandering the opportunities they manage to scratch out.
Something needs to change.