The Red Sox would like to leave the west coast, please. After abysmal pitching highlighted the four-game set in Seattle, it’s been an utter lack of offense that has stood out in Oakland. Today’s game was particularly frustrating. Mike Fiers is certainly a more talented pitcher than Aaron Brooks, who got the start in the first game of the series. However, to me Brooks looked more impressive. Fiers was solid, but the Red Sox beat themselves a lot in this game by watching first-pitch strike after first-pitch strike. They were behind in seemingly every at bat, and at that point Fiers had his way with them. On the other side, Chris Sale didn’t quite look like Chris Sale, but the results were good. Instead of overpowering opponents and racking up the whiffs the southpaw was keeping hitters off-balance and getting weak contact. It resulted in just one run, but even that was too much for the Red Sox lineup to match.
The big story early in this game was Sale, who was always going to be the big story regardless of how the outing went. Given the pitiful performance from the rotation the first time through, all eyes were on the Red Sox ace for his second start of the year. When you throw in the lack of velocity in his first outing, things were only more extreme. He didn’t really ease many concerns in that respect, though, particularly early on. Sale was sitting around 88-90 mph with his fastball in that first inning, getting up to 91 mph once. The velocity never really got back up there later in the outing, either, save for a few instances of 91-92. And yet, he was very good. There was one big mistake early, but his command was much improved over that outing in Seattle. Missing spots was the real issue in that first start, and he reminded people on Tuesday that he can still succeed even without his best fastball.
That first inning, though, was not exactly a resounding success and the panic was real and justified at that point. Again, the velocity readings on the NESN score bug were jarring, and the Athletics punished him early. Matt Chapman, who was highlighted by Alex Cora before the game as a key in Oakland’s lineup, was the second batter of the frame. Sale gave him an 88 mph fastball at the top of the zone and Chapman was all over it, ripping a line drive just over the wall in left field for a solo home run, giving the A’s a 1-0 lead. Sale would walk Khris Davis a couple batters later, and he was at 26 pitches after that first inning.
From there, though, he settled down a bit. His second inning wasn’t perfect either as he issued his second walk of the night to kick things off. The roll started right after that free pass. With the runner on first, he recorded three consecutive outs to finish that inning. In the third, he allowed just a two out single (though it should have been a double as the Red Sox caught a break when the ball bounced off the third base umpire’s leg) before coming out for a six-pitch, 1-2-3 fourth. In the fifth, he’d allow just a single, though he was helped out by a stellar play from Rafael Devers at third base. In the sixth, it was just a hit batter.
Without the fastball, Sale was throwing a lot of good sliders and changeups, keeping Oakland off balance. In all, it was a good, but strange, outing. The ace tossed six innings in which he allowed just the one run on the homer with just one strikeout, two walks, a hit batter and three hits.
Unfortunately, the Red Sox offense picked up right where they left off on Monday night, which is to say they did a whole lot of nothing against Mike Fiers. It was a similar showing to that first game of this series and they looked nothing like the juggernaut they were in 2018. It’s not even just the results, either. Boston’s hitters have seemingly lost their aggression at the plate in Oakland. The continued to fall behind 0-1 by looking at first-pitch strikes all night long. Fiers was daring the Red Sox to swing, they wouldn’t, and then they’d be playing defense the rest of the at bat. You’re not going to succeed like that at this level.
Over the first half of the game, they only had a couple of chances and neither of them were even all that enticing. In the third inning, with just one hit as a team to this point, they got a two-out double from Mookie Betts to give them their first runner in scoring position. Andrew Benintendi then hit a 3-1 pitch into the ground to strand him there. Then, in the fourth, they got a leadoff single from Devers and a two-out single from Mitch Moreland to put runners on the corners. They would again be stranded when Brock Holt grounded out to end the frame.
The Red Sox would have another opportunity in the sixth and their best of the night to that point. Andrew Benintendi did swing at the first pitch here, and while he just had an excuse-me tapper to the left side it was enough for a cheap single. After stealing second base, Boston had a runner in scoring position with nobody out. He’d move over to third with two outs on a ground out, but he’d be stranded there. They’d strand yet another runner at third in the seventh.
After Brandon Workman tossed an impressive 1-2-3 inning, the Red Sox had six more outs to squeeze across at least one run to tie the game. They had the top of their order coming up for the eighth, but they went down in order themselves.
In the ninth, Ryan Brasier faced only three batters, giving Boston one more chance to score just one more run. If they were going to do it, it was going to have to come against Blake Treinen, coming off one of the most impressive reliever seasons in recent memory. In the second at bat of the inning, Bogaerts fouled a ball off his foot and was in serious pain. He’d stay in the game, and right after that he blasted one way out to center field. It just missed leaving the yard by a few feet and instead bounced off the wall. Just like Monday night, Bogaerts challenged the arm of Ramón Laureano, and just like Monday night he lost. It was an over-aggressive decision to try and stretch it to a double — Laureno’s arm is absurd, Bogaerts had just fouled a ball off his foot and a runner at second would have been fine — and he was thrown out by another unbelievable throw. Moreland would draw a walk after that, and Eduardo Núñez came on to pinch run and stole second, putting him in scoring position with two strikes for Holt. He’d be stranded there on a strikeout to end the game.
So, the best the Red Sox will be able to do in this Oakland series would be a split, and they’ll have to win the next two days to get there. Boston will send Nathan Eovaldi to the mound in hopes to get back in the win column and he’ll take on former Blue Jays righty Marco Estrada. First pitch is scheduled for 10:07 PM ET.