The penultimate series of the 2023 season – and the last Fenway series – began tonight against the Tampa Bay Rays, a team fighting for the AL East title and a team that has, despite some modicum of inner turmoil, locked up a postseason berth already. This season could not end any sooner for the Red Sox, and I have noticed striking similarities between this season’s end and last season’s end, both of which will claim, ehhhh, 78-ish wins?
Tanner Houck has been known as the pitcher on this roster in recent memory who is most likely to struggle the third time through the order relative to the first time. In a turn of events, he did not even need one inning to start struggling in this game, as he hit the first batter he faced, Jonathan Aranda, who has gotten Boston’s number all season. The next batter, Junior Caminaro, a recent call-up from Durham, would make Houck pay, firing his first double of his Major League career. In fact, Houck would allow two more hits (and weather yet another error by Rafael Devers at third) and a total of three runs before even recording an out. You can’t get too much worse than that (knock on wood.) Houck almost did, though, because he loaded the bases still with no outs. Luckily, his magician ways continued, as he got out of it. But, stop me if you’ve heard me say this before this season.... the damage was already done.
On the other side, Tampa started Zach Eflin, who was looking for his sixteenth win of the season, pitching to a commendable 1.02 WHIP. He certainly got Red Sox out efficiently in his first few innings, allowing just Trevor Story to reach second on a one-out fielding error; he’d get as far as third base. Meanwhile, it just was not Houck’s night. In the third, the Rays went almost completely through their lineup again and scored four runs, thanks in part to Rene Pinto hitting a home run to make it 7-0. According to RSN Stats, it was the third home run he’s given up to a nine-hitter this season, which leads the team. Houck also broke his single-game record for hits allowed, with 10. He would not come out for the fourth inning. 45 minutes after this game began, it was time to change the channel. Or was it?
While Zack Kelly, Brennan Bernardino, and Mauricio Llovera stopped the bleeding from getting any more grotesque, Eflin was solid for Tampa until he wasn’t. The fifth inning showed some cracks in his armor. Wilyer Abreu and Bobby Dalbec hit twin singles to left and right, respetively, and Enmanuel Valdez took care of center field by hitting a 411-foot unit to make it 7-3. Eflin would retire the next three batters in order, but Abreu would double to the Monster past an overextended Ramiel Tapia (hello, old friend) and make it a two-run game. This turned quickly from one of those games that Boston starts terribly and never recovers, to a game that Boston starts terribly and plays extremely well at the end to no avail.
Justin Turner hit an RBI single to get the Tampa lead as low as 1, but Chris Murphy getting into a little ugly scenario led Alex Cora to jump to Josh Winckowski, who promptly gave up two runs and made the lead a bit more insurmountable. You’ve heard that one before out of Cora, too, right? In the bottom of the frame, Story and Dalbec again each reached base, and Enmanuel Valdez missed a monster shot by about eight feet vertically, and had to settle for a stand-up double that drove Story in. The Red Sox would also have to settle for that one run opposed to the three, as Adam Duvall struck out on a bad second strike call and subsequent swing and miss. Winckowski shut Tampa down in the ninth, but Pete Fairbanks struck out the Sox in order in the ninth. Game over, 9-7.
This Red Sox game had the greatest hits of the things that make a fan foaming mad. A bad starting pitching performance, an egregious fielding error by Rafael Devers, the team coming back, too many strikeouts including one probable bad call, leaving guys on base, Cora pulling a reliever and the resulting pitcher surrendering more runs. It certainly is not awesome, as some ex-executives may infer. The Red Sox have now lost five straight, six of their last seven, and eight of their last ten. They are now 7-16 in September. More importantly, this is their 81st loss of the season, rendering them no chance of finishing with a winning record. It’s almost like when management - or coaching - punts, the team is more inclined to.
This type of lazy play - and lately, especially lazy management - why fan intrigue is so low and why personnel, both on and off the diamond, and in the front office, is so questioned. I’ve said a few times this season that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing despite knowing the result. We’ve seen games that pretty much could have been repeats of other games this season due to poor decision making. I hope games like this are looked at as a matrix instead of in a vacuum, and some inner reflection is made. Here’s hoping I’m not writing into the abyss (I likely am.)
Enmanuel Valdez: 3-4, 2B, HR, 4 RBI
Wilyer Abreu: 2-4, 2 RBI, 1 R, K
Trevor Story: 1-3, 2 R, 1 K
Honorable: Schreiber, Llovera, Kelly, Bernardino: combined 4 IP, 1 H, 3 K
Tanner Houck: 3 IP, 10 H, 6 ER, 2 K
Connor Wong: 0-4, 3 K, some questionable catching
Rafael Devers: 0-5, 3 K, error
Play of the Game
That Enmanuel Valdez home run was magnificent and ignited the team. When the Sox lose, you won’t see me list players of the game, but the tail end of this lineup gets some honorary consideration for pulling their weight, and when a guy has four RBI’s and keeps a team that does not deserve to win in the game, his best play is going to be listed here.
Well, this was my last game story assignment of the season. I turn 30 on Thursday, so hope for an ambitious win over, truth be told, a fantastic Baltimore team that night, in my honor. This series also marks one year (a little more, actually) since I officially became a member of the OTM team. I can’t say it’s been a good season, but as I said about my Sunday and Wednesday night Minor Lines, I’ve also enjoyed the engagement I’ve gotten on Tuesday nights throughout the year, whether you agree with me or you don’t. Thanks everyone for reading, and I’ll again be active in the offseason along with all of you, analyzing every move whoever this TBA guy makes. See you then!