A little more than a week ago, Cole Figueroa was in Triple-A. On Friday, he was ducking tacklers on the Tampa Bay Rays, who were trying to chase down the night’s hero.
That Figueroa, a 26-year-old rookie who had no major-league experience before the Rays called him up from Durham last week, drove in the game-winning run in Tampa Bay’s 1-0 victory over the Boston Red Sox shouldn’t really come as a surprise.
The Red Sox have found so many new and excruciating ways to lose these last eight games, it actually made perfect sense that a career minor leaguer with seven big-league at-bats should deal the latest blow.
But Figueroa’s walk-off merely punctuated a game full of cringe-inducing moments by the Red Sox. From A.J. Pierzynski’s inability to advance to second base on a sacrifice bunt to Jonny Gomes pinch-running for a hobbling Shane Victorino, Red Sox manager John Farrell probably developed a headache long before the game-winning run.
The defeat was doubly tough for the Red Sox (20-27) because John Lackey pitched well enough to win — better, even. The righty pitched seven innings of five-hit, shutout ball, finally leaving after he surrendered a leadoff single to David DeJesus in the eighth.
Lackey set down 14 out of 15 batters at one point and slipped out of jams in the sixth and seventh innings. Boston needed him to be sharp, too, with Chris Archer dealing for the Rays (21-28). Archer hurled six tremendous innings with no runs, four hits and 11 strikeouts. The Red Sox only advanced two runners past first base against the 25-year-old right-hander.
Even when they weren’t being stymied by the opposing pitcher, though, the Red Sox were busy beating themselves. Though not known for his wheels, Pierzynski should have been able to make it to second on Victorino’s bunt in the top of the ninth. (Victorino then departed, almost immediately, with an injured right hamstring.) In the bottom of the frame, Pierzynski and Badenhop appeared to get mixed up on a pitchout when Jennings stole second, moving the Rays’ center fielder into scoring position for Figueroa to deliver the dagger.
And all of that overlooks the outfield of Gomes, Grady Sizemore and Mike Carp that would have presented problems for Boston defensively, had the game continued into extra innings.
During losing streaks, it often seems as though the stars are aligning to keep a team from ever getting another win. Admirable pitching efforts get wasted. Fundamental sacrifice plays turn into fielder’s choices. Career minor leaguers hit walk-offs.
With the losing streak at eight in a row, the fates aren’t actually aligning to keep the Red Sox winless since May 14. It only feels that way — it really, really feels that way.