The Red Sox have lost their first series of the year and have lost consecutive games for the first time in 2018. This was a frustrating loss, and in many ways a more frustrating loss than Saturday’s no-hitter. The offense was completely shut down by Daniel Mengden, who deserves a lot of credit for his work but also seemed more hittable than the box score would indicate. J.D. Martinez in particular was disappointing as the slugger went 0-4 with three strikeouts. David Price was phenomenal on the mound and you have to feel good about him after this game, but he was left in a little too long and Alex Cora paid the price. The Red Sox manager will get the bulk of the blame for this one both for his management in the decisive eighth inning, his pinch-hitting non-decisions a little bit earlier and his lineup lacking three regulars. These are all fair criticisms, to be fair, but if we’re being honest the batters didn’t do enough in this game, and that was the biggest issue. Regardless of who you want to blame, it was not a fun Sunday afternoon for the Red Sox in Oakland.
A day after getting no-hit by Sean Manaea, the Red Sox only looked slightly better against Mengden. As is often the case in games like these, it’s very easy to look at the Red Sox hitters and say they did a poor job. It’s also entirely correct! These hitters are much more talented than they showed on Sunday afternoon. The worst part is that the Athletics’ starter wasn’t as pinpoint with his location as Manaea was the night before. Mengden was leaving some hittable pitches in the middle of the zone, and the Red Sox just couldn’t get their timing right. Way too many of those pitches ended up being fouled off behind the catcher. That being said, Mengden deserves plenty of credit for that as well. The command wasn’t perfect — though it was still good, don’t get me wrong — but his pitch mix was certainly on point. He was throwing any pitch in any situation, and Boston’s bats were noticeably off-balance.
The first goal of the day was to simply get a hit, as it had been far too long since they accomplished that feat. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait too long for that and avoided suffering through the broadcasters reminding us how long it had been since the last Red Sox hit after every at bat. Jackie Bradley Jr. was in the leadoff spot today with Mookie Betts getting the night off, and the outfielder sent a line drive into right field for a leadoff single. He’d get to second on a two-out Mitch Moreland single, but they were both stranded when Rafael Devers struck out to end the inning.
In fact, after Moreland’s single is when Mengden really started to settle into a rhythm and seemingly started feeling himself with a confident pitch mix. The Oakland righty retired the next twelve batters he faced after that base hit before that streak was finally broken by a two-out double from Christian Vazquez. Like Bradley, however, he’d be stranded.
On the other side of things, David Price had a strong day at the plate that was overshadowed by the lackluster performance from his teammates. The command wasn’t there for the entire day as he had a little early trouble locating that backdoor cutter to right-handers, which is his deadliest pitch if he can get it on the outside corner. He’d get it back not too late into the game, though, and mostly cruised through this underrated Oakland lineup through the middle innings. If you’re looking for an encouraging takeaway from this contest, it was Price putting forth a strong outing despite what would happen a little later.
It didn’t always appear the southpaw was going to have that kind of day, though, as he got himself into some early trouble. Marcus Semien, who has killed the Red Sox all weekend, started things off and got a fastball over the heart of the plate. The shortstop sent it on a line into left field and legged out an easy double to kick things off. He’d move over to third on a groundout, and after a strikeout put two outs on the board for Price, Khris Davis came through with a single that snuck through the left side and just like that the A’s had their 1-0 lead.
After Price escaped that inning with just the one run on the scoreboard, he settled into a nice groove. He’d allow a couple baserunners here and there, but nobody would advance beyond first base for the next three frames. The next bit of trouble came in the fifth when he left a fat pitch for Jake Smolinski and the outfield smoked it halfway up the wall for a one-out double. The Red Sox pitcher came through with a couple of routine flyouts to escape that jam, though.
From here we fast-forward to the top half of the seventh with Mengden still in and still rolling. The Red Sox started to break through here, however, when Moreland and Devers started the inning off with a pair of singles. It was a situation of which the Red Sox had to take advantage, and they did. After Blake Swihart, who got the start as the DH on Sunday, made the first out on a fielder’s choice, Brock Holt had a chance to come through. He did just that in a nice at bat, ripping a 3-2 pitch past Oakland’s first baseman for an RBI double to tie the game up and put two in scoring position with nobody out. That led A’s manager Bob Melvin to lift Mengden in favor of Yusmiero Petit, and Alex Cora opted to let the bottom of the order hit rather than use Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez or Eduardo Nuñez as a pinch hitter. It didn’t work out as Vazquez popped out and Tzu-Wei Lin struck out, stranding both runners in scoring position. A disappointing end, but the Sox did tie the game at one.
Price then came back out for the bottom half of the seventh, with only 70 pitches under his belt, and got a much-needed shutdown inning (side note: I know these are not a predictive things and broadcasters talk about them too much but also I think they’re kind of a thing in a way I can’t articulate? Cool story, I know), and he did so on only 11 more pitches. The Red Sox then had a chance in the top of the eight when Andrew Benintendi drew a one-out walk and stole second with two outs, but Martinez and Moreland both struck out against Blake Treinen (a wildly underrated reliever) to nullify the threat.
That brought us to the eighth, and things weren’t as easy for Price here. As has been the case so often in this series, the rally started with Semien when the shortstop got a one-out single. Stephen Piscotty followed that up with an infield single on a big diving stop by Devers that saved extra bases and very possibly a run. With two on and one out, Jed Lowrie came up in a big spot and Price got a huge strikeout. The lefty’s pitch count was now in the mid-90s and right-handed power in Khris Davis was coming up, but Cora opted to keep Price in despite have Carson Smith warm. It seemed like one batter too long, but in fairness to Cora Price had been mostly cruising through this outing and it was at least understandable to have some faith. It didn’t pay off, though, as Davis smoked a three-run shot out to left field and just like that the Red Sox were down 4-1.
The Red Sox had three more outs to come back, and after a couple of quick ones Brock Holt got on thanks to an error by Semien — one that I really wish the official scorer had called a hit as a troll job after Saturday’s “controversy”. That brought Vazquez to the plate with Betts in the on deck circle as a potential pinch hitter and both Ramirez and Nuñez on the bench. Vazquez put up a tough at bat but ultimately popped out to end the game. It was not a great game for Cora and it was an even worse day for the offense. Still, the Red Sox went 4-2 on the west coast trip that so often trips them up. It didn’t end on a high note, but all things considered it was a successful week.
Cora and the Red Sox will look to get back to their winning ways after a day off on Monday. They’ll be heading to Toronto to take on the Blue Jays for the first time this year with Rick Porcello taking the mound against J.A. Happ. First pitch will be at 7:07 PM ET.