Giving the money to Stephen Drew while making no commitment to him beyond October, the Red Sox on Tuesday made a $10 million investment in this season – the duration and the dough of the deal combining to make a clear statement that Boston’s brass believes it has a team capable of competing immediately.
And maybe they’re right. There's still 117 games for the club to deliver on those expectations. But it’s getting harder and harder to share such faith that 2014 isn’t the penance Red Sox Nation is being forced to pay for the unexpected and sometimes inconceivable joys of yesteryear.
Consider, after a 6-4 loss to the Blue Jays before a crowd of 36,116 at Fenway Park, the Sox are now 20-25 overall. They’ve lost six straight, twice as many as their longest skid of last season. The last five of those have come at home, where they’re now 10-16.
They’re 10-20 when opposed by a right-handed starting pitcher. They’re 5-20 when the opponent scores first. They’ve lost three consecutive series. And if Toronto can find a way to beat Jon Lester on Thursday afternoon, the Sox will have been swept on their home field for the third time before the season is two months old.
“You never want to lose six games in a row. I think any team would press at that point, especially given last year we never lost more than three," said starting pitcher Clay Buchholz. "I don’t think it’s so much everybody’s pressing, but everybody wants to be the stopper who can start a winning streak.”
The numbers are ugly, almost across the board – and in few places are they uglier than the stat line of Buchholz, who at this point in his career should be the Sox’ No. 2 starter, but now carries a 6.42 ERA after nine starts, four of which have seen him fail to finish the fifth inning, and six of which have ended in losses for Boston, despite his and his manager's insistence that he’s physically feeling fine.
"As far as stuff goes, I feel like I had the best stuff in this start, velocity-wise, that I've had all year," Buchholz said. "There is absolutely nothing physically bothering me. It's tough to go out there and [when] you miss with one pitch it gets hit every time. That's sort of where I'm at right now."
The first three innings have been particularly problematic for Buchholz this season – he came with an 8.49 ERA over those three frames – and Wednesday was no better. He survived the first without yielding a run, though he didn’t look particularly sharp in doing so, and that caught up to him in the second.
A night after launching two homers, the sizzling Edwin Encarnacion opened the scoring with a line-drive homer that cleared the wall in left, and after three of the next four hitters also reached, Jose Reyes delivered Juan Francisco with an RBI single.
Buchholz executed pitches to Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista to leave the bases loaded there, but Adam Lind opened the third with a triple to the triangle in center – then Encarnacion mashed another bomb, becoming the first player since Troy Tulowitzki in 2010 to accumulate four multi-homer games in a single month. And there are still 10 days to go in this one.
"Inconsistent command. Far too many at-bats where he pitched behind in the count," manager John Farrell said. "Uncharacteristic for what we know of Clay is that mistakes found a way to the middle of the plate. We find ourselves down quickly 4-0, and we're digging out of a hole from the third inning on."
The Sox starter actually retired the next five Jays, among six of seven. And in the meantime Shane Victorino put the Sox on the scoreboard with a long ball to left. But Lind singled to start the fifth, Encarnacion reached on a Brock Holt throwing error, and eventually Dioner Navarro made that flub hurt by plating Lind with a single of his own.
That run was unearned on his record, but the hit still ended the night for Buchholz after 4.2 innings, nine hits, two walks, two strikeouts and five runs.
"I thought there was better finish to his stuff from the middle of the third inning until the time he came out of the game, but physically there's no complaints, there's no issues," said Farrell, saying there are no plans to remove the righty from the rotation. "We've got to make an adjustment mechanically because too many misfires up to the arm side."
The bottom of the Toronto order cobbled together another run in the seventh, this one charged to Chris Capuano, and proving important for insurance purposes when Boston finally began to chip away in the eighth. Down 6-1 at that point, Mike Carp doubled home Victorino (who’d reached on a fielder’s choice). Xander Bogaerts then doubled in Carp by sending his third hit of the night high off the left-field wall. And Brock Holt made it 6-4 by dumping a single in front of Cabrera in left.
There was still only one out, and the top of the Sox order was coming to bat. But left-hander Brett Cecil readily dismissed Grady Sizemore with a strikeout. Then Dustin Pedroia hacked at the first pitch from righty Steve Delabar and bounced one to third. The rally flamed out quickly.
"We're just not getting the big hit. I think we're still hitting, just not when guys are on base," said Sizemore, whose team stranded 11. "I thought we had good swings tonight. Battled back, just a couple hits here or there, it's a different ballgame."
And despite A.J. Pierzysnki’s two-out single bringing Victorino to bat as the tying run, it wouldn’t be re-stoked in the ninth, as the Sox extended their longest losing streak since the days of Bobby Valentine.
Those aren’t days Red Sox fans want to remember. Let alone relive.
*David Ortiz went 0-for-5, and is now 3-for-22 since the second of his two-homer nights in Minnesota.
*Koji Uehara pitched a perfect ninth, though it marked the second consecutive appearance in which he was brought into a losing game just to get some work. He’s worked just three times, facing 11 batters, since notching his eighth save on May 7.
*Sizemore is now 4-for-43 as a leadoff hitter this season, and has just one hit in his last 16 at-bats overall. “Out front on changeups from right-handers," Farrell said, "and the breaking ball running away from him is giving him some issues.”