Reportedly, two people out of roughly six million correctly picked the Final Four in ESPN’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament bracket challenge. The percentage of those predicting that the loaded, talented, and apparently motivated Red Sox would start the season 0-6 may have been even smaller.
And nobody, but nobody, thought the six straight losses would come in the fashion that they did, running the gamut of scenarios in which a ballclub could possibly be doomed.
“We’re not catching any breaks,” said third baseman Kevin Youkilis after a head-scratching 1-0 loss in Cleveland on Thursday. “We’re not catching our breaks and a lot of times it just spirals out of control, so we have to put a halt to it … It’s one of those things where we’re frustrated as hell because we never thought we’d be here. But we are here so you got to deal with it.”
Indeed, during six games away from home to start the year, things did seem to spiral from bad to worse, and the week-long pursuit of win No. 1 will have to continue in the home opener against the New York Yankees on Friday. Another sweep (hard to rule anything out at this point) would result in the worst start in franchise history, topping the 0-8 beginning in 1945.
It’s hard to imagine any team, no matter what their record is, finding more ways to lose a game.
Boston was first battered into submission in Texas by allowing 11 home runs to the Rangers. The offense then fell completely flat in Cleveland, where the high-priced, high-profile lineup managed five runs on 15 hits in three games.
And, one day after a rare defensive mishap by captain Jason Varitek helped the Indians put together a winning rally, the final phase of the game — base running — reared its ugly head in the finale, a game that the Sox lost despite finally getting something from one of its starters.
The mess actually made Jon Lester‘s seven scoreless innings a relative afterthought, perhaps the biggest shame of the afternoon.
After Lester and Fausto Carmona swapped zeroes for seven innings, Boston stranded two runners on base in the top of the eighth when both Carl Crawford and Dustin Pedroia grounded out weakly.
Daniel Bard then began the ninth by walking the No. 9 hitter, Adam Everett, to start the inning, and Everett eventually swiped second with catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s throw flying into center field.
A sacrifice bunt got Everett to third and a perfectly placed suicide squeeze scored him with the only run of the afternoon.
Terry Francona knew the squeeze might come, but the execution made it almost indefensible. As it was, he was not pleased that Bard would walk the weak-hitting Everett to begin with.
“We certainly were aware that it could happen,” Francona said of the squeeze by Asdrubal Cabrera. “I mean, we walked the nine hitter and we’re not commanding. Unless you pick the exact pitch, and they’re certainly not going to tell us, then all of a sudden we’ve got first and third and [Shin-Soo] Choo up, and that’s worse.
“When that happens you have to pick your poison. We elected to let him pitch and they executed it and that was the only run of the game and it hurts.”
The Red Sox had one final chance, but in a cruel twist emblematic of a season gone awry (so far), they ran themselves out of it.
David Ortiz drew a two-out walk and Darnell McDonald went in to run for him. J.D. Drew ripped one up the middle that caught the leg of Cleveland closer Chris Perez, sending the ball bounding toward third baseman Adam Everett.
McDonald raced to second but rounded it too far and slipped trying to get back to the bag. He was out when Everett threw behind him. It left many of the Red Sox players stunned in the dugout as McDonald pleaded a weak case with second base umpire Dan Iassogna.
Francona was a bit more forgiving of McDonald’s gaffe, but he knows that his team is not in a situation to make many mistakes. The margin for error is thin, and the odds seem to be stacked against the Sox at every turn.
“He went around second aggressive like he’s supposed to and slipped, and he tried his best to get back and he couldn’t,” Francona said. “When you’re playing like we are right now or scoring like we are, every mistake, it just mounts. We need to start playing to the point where if somebody slips it doesn’t hurt our chances to win a ballgame.”
Bad starting pitching yielded to stagnant offense which mixed in some shoddy defense and a base running blunder. There are few areas in which the Red Sox, a team which seemingly didn’t have a weakness, has not failed.
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