All season long — and in the last month, in particular — the word of choice to describe the Red Sox has been "resilient." Once again, the Red Sox fought back after falling behind, but on Monday night, the problem was that they allowed the Rays to do the same.
In the end, two comebacks were too much for the Red Sox, and they fell 6-5 to Tampa Bay to kick off a six-game tour through the AL East leading up to the All-Star break.
It’s one game, but in the culture of the AL East these days, one game means everything. This time, it means Boston falls to third place in the division for the first time since June 19.
The Red Sox have been beaten and battered; that storyline has been driven into the ground. They’ve weathered the storm over the past two weeks, finding a way to win despite devastating injuries to Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, Jason Varitek, Mike Lowell and Manny Delcarmen, just to name a few.
Before Monday night's loss, the Red Sox went 12-4 since June 15, in spite of all the injuries, all the roster moves and all the personnel changes. They’ve been able to stay afloat for two reasons: big hits from the little people and high-quality pitching. For a while, that formula seemed to be working as planned.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, as he often does, struggled through the first inning, allowing an RBI double to Carl Crawford. But it was one of those rare nights when Rays starter Matt Garza struggled more. The Red Sox chased Garza by the end of the third inning, and the Boston offense picked up its' own iffy starter, as it has done so many times in the past several weeks, giving Matsuzaka a 4-1 cushion to work with by the time he emerged for the third frame.
This time, the unlikely hero was outfielder Eric Patterson, who blasted a pair of two-out homers and doubled once for the first multi-extra-base hit game of his career.
"He’s swinging the bat great," said manager Terry Francona. "That first home run … you could tell how much it helped his confidence. He was on everything."
Patterson gave new life to the game by tying it in the third and starting a four-run rally, then he provided a little extra insurance with his second solo shot in the fifth.
"It’s about] getting out there getting some consistent [at-bats]," Patterson said. "I’ve been better than numbers show coming over here [from Oakland], but coming over here, getting ABs, getting some rhythm and timing [helps]."
Initially, Matsuzaka took advantage. In the third, he let Ben Zobrist and Crawford reach, then retired the next six batters he faced. But trouble hit once again in the fifth inning, and this time, the Red Sox wouldn’t rebound.
Matsuzaka faced 13 batters in the fifth and sixth innings, and in that span, he coughed up a four-run advantage, allowing five singles, one double and two walks.
"He had real good stuff early on," Francona said. "He wasn't commanding [early], and we've seen that happen before, but once he got through that, he was pretty good. Then we got into the sixth and had a real long inning."
After the Rays’ offense successfully completed the comeback, the bullpen stepped in. The Rays’ pitching held Boston scoreless over the final five frames, notching seven strikeouts and escaping a bases-loaded jam in the seventh. Boston’s final 20 batters were held to just two hits, one of which came with two outs in the ninth.
"Personally, it was a good night, but losing definitely stings," Patterson said. "We'll come back [on Tuesday], and this is only Game 1 of the series. We’ll get Game 2 and 3 and go from there."
When you’re facing Matt Garza and he’s gone after three innings, you expect to win. When you’re facing Matt Garza, he’s gone after three innings and you have a four-run lead, you absolutely expect to win.
Obviously, the Red Sox weren’t quite as resilient as their opponent on Monday night, but there’s always another chance to bounce back. Now, it’s just a matter of taking it and staying afloat until Sunday.
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