Even after a sweep at the hands of the Yankees at home in the biggest series of the season, the Red Sox still could feel fairly good about their chances. All they had to do is beat very bad teams in the Orioles and Nationals. That, uh, did not get off to a good start. There was really just one bad inning from the pitching with Chris Sale and Hansel Robles combining to allow three runs in the sixth. It was not great, but against a team like Baltimore with a 5.84 staff ERA, that shouldn’t be an issue. But it was for the Red Sox on Tuesday. It was an embarrassing day for the offense, who didn’t manage more than one baserunner in any inning — their runs came on a pair of solo homers — and immediately after they fell behind by a run they went down in two straight perfect innings on just 12 pitches. This did not look like a team fighting for their postseason lives.
With the Red Sox having to take care of business this week, another big plus for their schedule beyond the teams they are facing is that the one pitcher scheduled to start twice is Chris Sale. Granted, if things go extremely well and they don’t need to play for anything on the last day of the season he won’t need to make that last start, but it’s never a bad thing to have in your back pocket. And it’s even more encouraging after seeing him on Tuesday, because he had it going on in Baltimore.
Although he’s barely been pitching for a month, this is actually the third time Baltimore has seen Sale this year, but you wouldn’t know it by the way he was dealing for the first portion of this game. The Red Sox ace had his fastball sitting around 94, and getting up to 96 when he needed it, to go with his typically great sweeping slider. And the result was an Orioles lineup that simply looked overmatched through five innings.
He retired the first four batters he faced, allowed one single, then got through the rest of the second inning without anyone reaching. He’d give up his another baserunner in the third when Kelvin Gutierrez drew a walk, but Cedric Mullins followed that up with a line drive to Bobby Dalbec at first base that resulted in a double play. In all, Sale would allow just three baserunners through five innings — a single, a walk, and a Rafael Devers error — striking out six in the process.
That performance ended up being big at the time, too, because while Baltimore’s pitching staff should be easily handled by a lineup like Boston’s, they struggled against lefty Bruce Zimmermann, making his first big league start in about three months. That said, they did take something of an early lead in the second thanks to Kyle Schwarber. The slugger got a first-pitch fastball over the plate and up in the zone, and he hit a high fly ball that kept carrying out to center field. It went over the fence for a solo shot, giving the Red Sox a 1-0 lead.
But that was all the Red Sox got for the early portion of the game, and in fact had only three baserunners besides the homer, none of which made it beyond first base. And so it was still a 1-0 game heading into the sixth, and the Red Sox were clearly looking for a little bit of insurance. Hunter Renfroe obliged that mission, taking an 0-1 fastball up in the zone and blasting it to right field for Boston’s second solo homer of the night, doubling up on their lead.
That brought us to the bottom of the sixth with Sale still in the game looking to keep cruising. Instead, he caught some bad luck to start the inning with Gutierrez reaching on an infield single when he hit a soft grounder to the left side. After getting Mullins after that, there was some thought that Alex Cora might turn to a warming Hansel Robles with some right-handed power coming up. Cora stuck with his ace, and sure enough Ryan Mountcastle punished a changeup that caught too much of the zone on the first pitch he saw. It was moonshot of a two-run homer, and it tied the game up 2-2.
Sale would allow a single to Austin Hays after that before being pulled, with Hansel Robles being tasked with keeping the game knotted up. Things didn’t get better. Trey Mancini poked a single through the right side before Pedro Severino snuck a grounder by Devers — it was ruled a single, but could have gone either way — to bring home another run, giving Baltimore a one-run lead. Robles got a double play ball after that to mercifully end the inning.
The Red Sox offense needed some life after that, but instead went down in order on just eight pitches, bringing Tanner Houck in for the bottom half of the seventh, still trailing by a run. To his credit, he worked around a two-out walk to do his job and keep the Red Sox within one.
But they only had six more outs to work with at this point to get something going. They went down in order on four pitches in the eighth. That brought Houck back out for another inning, and after two outs he got into trouble. He gave up two straight two-out singles in front of Ryan McKenna, who got a little bloop into right-center field to give Baltimore a two-run cushion.
Now, the Red Sox just had one more chance to get at least two on the board, and had their biggest bats coming up in the ninth. It didn’t matter, though, as they’d go down in order yet again to drop an embarrassing, and potentially costly, game.
The 4-2 loss dropped the Red Sox record to 88-69. As of this writing, the Yankees hold a one-run lead in the seventh over the Blue Jays. If that score holds, New York will boost their lead for the top wildcard spot to two games over Boston, while the Blue Jays would still trail the Red Sox by a game for the second spot. Seattle, who started the day 1.5 games behind Boston, plays late tonight against the Athletics.
The Red Sox now desperately need a bounce back on Wednesday with Nathan Eovaldi taking on Zac Lowther. First pitch is set for 7:05 PM ET.