At some point in each of the last two seasons, the Red Sox have reached a point where they're no longer simply doing a bad job of winning games, but actually turning losing into an art form. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in new and impressive ways, taking losses that should be mundane and making them something much worse by subverting the expectations of how they'd lose.
After the great start to 2016, we hoped they'd be taking a year off from that routine. But Wednesday night marked the return of the unwelcome art form.
For the first two games of this series, they seemed to have completely lost their way at the plate. Getting shut down by Chris Sale is one thing, but failing to give Steven Wright the run support he needed to win a game where he allowed one unearned run in nine innings? Scoring zero after loading the bases with zero outs in the ninth? Dreadful doesn't even really tell the whole story.
Those, though, were simply ugly losses. Not art. Tonight? Tonight was art. They failed to hit in the first two games, so how do you really make a show of losing the third? By hitting, and failing to do anything else.
Fielding? Pshaw. Travis Shaw did away with that in the third, when he attempted to field a ground ball with his wrist, failing to record the third out of the inning and allowing a run to come in to score.
Pitching? Nope. Neither in the rotation or bullpen. Eduardo Rodriguez was slightly better than he had been in his first starts, but still wasn't really good enough. He had many of the same encouraging signs as we'd seen in his last couple of games in terms of increased velocity, and it translated to a fair few strikeouts. But Rodriguez was still vulnerable to the mistake pitch, most notably in the sixth when he failed to locate with a fastball to Todd Frazier, surrendering the 4-2 lead on a bomb into the monster seats.
The worst, though, would come from the bullpen. While coming into this game it seemed likely that the real problem would be scoring off Jose Quintana, the Red Sox actually did plenty of that tonight. Even with David Ortiz being easily thrown out trying to score a second inning that went without a run despite two walks and a single, the Sox broke through in the third for four runs, almost all of them coming before an out came in the inning as Boston strung together four straight singles after a leadoff walk.
Hanley Ramirez would end that inning with a pretty well-hit ball that went straight to short for a double play, but did his best to make up for it by shooting a laser shot into the bullpens in the sixth to regain the lead, with the Sox adding a sixth run to give them back the two-run lead Rodriguez had just surrendered. Junichi Tazawa came out throwing an excellent forkball for all three of his outs, leaving just two frames to go.
Enter Koji Uehara. He had a lot to live up to after Tazawa's excellent performance (with a variant of Uehara's signature pitch). Instead, he hung a bunch of meatballs out for the White Sox to crush. Two homers and three runs later, and the Red Sox were staring up at a 7-6 deficit.
They might have undone that damage in the bottom of the inning, but there's more to this loss than just what the Sox can control. With two down in the bottom of the eighth, Xander Bogaerts hit a long fly ball to left-center field, and apparently just missed a home run as it bounced off the wall. Replay, however, showed that a fan clearly made contact with the ball before it hit the wall, causing it to dramatically change its trajectory, arguably (and at least in this writer's view) changing a homer into a double.
But the video review was conclusive only of the interference, not of the would-be outcome. And the umpires can't overturn the double call based only on that. With Chris Young striking out after just missing his own huge homer foul and over everything to left, Bogaerts was stranded on second, and Robbie Ross barely escaped the ninth while allowing a single inherited runner to score as he went around plunking a bunch of White Sox. Boston got a leadoff baserunner in the ninth, but that was it. Another loss with so much blame to go around that there will probably still be some left over for Pablo Sandoval once everyone else has had their share.
The Sox are a bad baseball team right now. 39-32 thanks to being a very good team earlier in the season, but that doesn't count for much today or tomorrow or the next day. Right now, there's little reason to expect them to win any game not started by Price, Wright, or Porcello, and even those end up being suspect with a lineup quite so hot-and-cold.
Unbelievable that this is the follow-up to beating the Mariners. 0-3 against Chicago with a sweep staring them in the face.