It was just this past Thursday that the Red Sox opened their series against Minnesota with a 13-2 win, maintaining their half-game lead over the Orioles and improving to 9-1 over their last 10 games. They were presented with an opportunity to potentially create some separation at the top of the East.
They've since taken that opportunity and done unspeakable things to it, the likes of which I'm not supposed to put in words on this website. And tonight, their fourth loss in five games, might just be the worst of it.
The Red Sox offense? Oh, it showed up. Facing off against Mike Pelfrey, the Sox came into the night expecting a good few runs, and certainly left with as much. David Ortiz belted a three-run shot past the bullpens to get the Red Sox on the board in a big way in the third. They would tack on two more in the very next inning courtesy of a leadoff walk and hit respectively from Jackie Bradley Jr. and Travis Shaw, with Mookie Betts driving a rocket of a double that Justin Upton came up just barely short on to finish the job and make it five runs in for the Red Sox.
You'd think with that sort of production the Red Sox might have a comfortable lead, especially since their most reliable starter of the year was on the mound. But no, as per usual this past week, the Red Sox had perfectly timed their offensive outburst to coincide with a pitching fiasco. Before there were two outs in the top of the first, Steven Wright had allowed two runs to the Tigers, with Miguel Cabrera taking the knuckleball a long way to right. Wright repeated his unfortunate act in the top of the second, giving up singles to two of the first three batters he faced, with both ment eventually scoring. So, when the Sox did get their big burst of offense, they took not a five-run, four-run, or even-three-run lead, but headed into the fifth ahead by just the one at 5-4.
And there things just got that much worse. Wright had actually more-or-less cruised through the next couple of innings, and seemed ready to at least turn his horrible outing into something at worst sub-par. But he started off the fifh unable to find the zone--the age-old weakness of the knuckleball if ever there was one--and proceeded to allow base hits to Victor Martinez and Nick Castellanos alike. The death knell for Steven Wright's night would come on a two-run singel from former Red Sox Jarrod Saltalamacchia, driving in two with a base hit to left to make it 8-5.
Still, that wasn't the end for Boston's hopes. The lineup went back to work in the sixth, starting with Jackie Bradley Jr. golfing a low offering from Kyle Ryan past the bullpen for a solo shot to bring the Sox within two. Ryan would manage to strike out Travis Shaw, but saw a decent effort go in vain as Ian Kinsler's attempted flip to Jose Iglesias on a ground ball from Brock Holt found the outfield. That brought former Red Sox farm hand Alex Wilson into the game, who proceeded to walk Mookie Betts and surrender a ringing single to Dustin Pedroia, bringing home a run and reloading the bases.
That would be Boston's big chance to keep things going and really blow the doors off this one. But with Xander Bogaerts and David Ortiz set to bat with the bases loaded and one down, the Red Sox got only a ground out RBI from Bogaerts, beating out the double play to at least tie things up.
The tie would not last through the top of the seventh, and if ever the "fire Farrell" crowd has had it's day in 2016, this is it. Already Robbie Ross had picked up an out in the fifth, and then all three in the sixth. He quickly recorded two to start the seventh, to boot. But already having wrung two innings of work out of one of the bullpen's fringe players, Farrell just kept on asking for more even when there was nothing left to give. Ross hit Justin Upton on the fourth pitch of his at bat, and the first pitch to Mike Aviles was flared into center for a single.
At this point, Farrell probably should've already been out of the dugout to get Ross. Instead, he left him out there for five more pitches--four of them balls--to load the bases. Surely, after three straight baserunners, Farrell would get his man?
Nope. Another batter, another walk, and a 9-8 lead for Detroit because Robbie Ross was left to hang after three straight baserunners having already retired six batters. Terry Francona was once known around these parts for leaving his pitchers in for too long. A certain 2008 playoff game against the Rays with Josh Beckett on the mound comes to mind. But this? This was some kind of horrific homage to Grady Little.
Where three-and-four-run leads had not been enough to stand up before, a one-run lead was enough to carry the Tigers through the end of this one.
This game is frustrating on so many damn levels. It's frustrating because the one guy who the Sox have generally been able to rely on couldn't back up eight runs from his offense. It's frustrating because the Sox managed to score those eight runs for the third time in four games and only come away with three damn wins despite falling 4-2 in the one other game. It's frustrating because they may well have had a shot if it wasn't for John Farrell asking for one out too many from his pitchers even after that one out was three batters and counting in the making. And it's frustrating because it's officially one more series gone the wrong way, with the Sox again managing to follow up one of their big triumphs (see: 2-0 vs. SFG) with an extended period of failure.
We can only hope that their ability to transition so smoothly from their best to their worst does not end up being the defining characteristic of this team.