The Rays presented David Price with two groups of players Wednesday afternoon. The first: Logan Forsythe, Evan Longoria, and Brandon Guyer. These were the threats. The guys with big career numbers vs. left-handed pitchers who could really hurt him. The second: all the rest, who he should mostly be able to brush off.
Twice through the lineup, that first bunch was 5-for-6 with two doubles and a homer. The rest were 1-for-12 with eight strikeouts. Unfortunately, though, being particularly good against the one group did not make up for being completely crushed by the others. Price worked around a leadoff double in the first, but let the Rays take a 1-0 lead in the second, and got pummeled for three more in the third. In the midst of a season he himself has called "unacceptable," Price had already assured that this start would not help his case before the fourth inning.
Finally, the third time through, he managed to get some outs against the three big bats. And when he managed to get Brandon Guyer to fly out to lead off the sixth it seemed like he might even get through the seventh to salvage something halfway decent from this start. But he let the next two batters reach, and while he managed to escape that jam, it left him facing the top of the order when the seventh rolled around. One line drive managed to find Jackie Bradley, but the next, rather weaker one dropped in front of him, and that was it for Price.
The way this start is being painted by many, it was Price putting up another embarrassing performance against a pathetic lineup. That's not entirely fair to him. He was spectacular against the players he should be spectacular against, and horrific against the ones who should have reasonably been expected to put up a good fight. Unfortunately, for an ace like Price, that's just not good enough. Against guys who beat up lefties, he should be able to work around them well enough that the rest of the lineup lets him get away without much damage. Certainly less than four runs. But instead he did what he'd done so often earlier in the year, striking out batter after batter after batter except when he got completely crushed.
All this would be that much worse if any pitching performance could have saved the Red Sox today. But no, even if Price had been magnificent, at best he could have forced extra innings. Matt Moore entered the game with a 5.04 ERA, having just allowed five runs in his last outing against the Baltimore Orioles. The Red Sox are supposed to be in the same conversation as those Orioles. They're supposed to be one of the most feared lineups in baseball.
They didn't get their first hit until the sixth. The one chance they'd had already, coming in the fifth on a couple of walks, ended when Jackie Bradley Jr. inexplicably attempted (and failed) to steal third with two outs. It was the first time he's ever been caught, but that doesn't excuse the strategic failure of running there in the first place.
When they finally did get that hit, they actually started putting together some offense, to the point where it seemed like they might be ready to stage a big comeback, chase Moore, and perhaps even tie things up or take the lead. Singles from Christian Vazquez, Mookie Betts, and Xander Bogaerts loaded the bases, leaving them with two chances in the hands of David Ortiz and the recently resurgent Hanley Ramirez. They just needed the one big hit to get on the board.
Seven pitches later, the Red Sox were taking the field, still behind 4-0 after a pop-up and an easy fly ball.
These are the games that make it hard to have any faith that there's still a good team somewhere in this mess. They appear for all the world to be utterly snakebit. When they're not just generally failing to hit or pitch, they're running into baffling outs or committing defensive gaffes. Did they disturb a burial ground of some sort? Displease some old hermit woman who is known to commune with the spirits? Their transition from world-beaters to laughing-stocks has been gradual, but the difference between this team in the middle of May and at the end of June seems too great to be natural. This was a group putting up double-digit outings day after day. Now they're ending 11-game losing streaks and getting beat by last-place teams.
They just plain have to be better.