BOSTON – In a game where the Red Sox finally get some offense – matching a season high with 16 hits, falling one shy of their season-high 10 runs scored – it was the pitching that betrayed them as they were demolished by the Cubs, 16-9, at Fenway Park Wednesday night to complete the three-game sweep.
At 37-46, the Cubs – in last place in the National League Central – are just .001 behind the Red Sox’ .447 winning percentage. At 38-47, the Red Sox have more losses than every American League team but the Rays and Astros.
And they did it all in a mind-numbing four hours and 19 minutes, the longest nine-inning game in the major leagues this season.
It was arguably the ugliest game the Sox have played since the disastrous 2012 season. After the game, a Twitter follower wrote to ask me if this was rock bottom for the Red Sox this season. I said yes. That was based on what we’ve seen so far. If there is still someplace lower for the Red Sox to fall, the rest of the season will be excruciating.
@steveayotte yes— Maureen Mullen (@MaureenaMullen) July 3, 2014
On Wednesday, the pitching was the culprit. The Sox staff entered the game with 3.73 ERA, fourth in the AL. That rose to 3.87 by the end of the night, falling to fifth in the league. That might not sound like much, but the pitching has been what the Sox have been able to count on this season. And against a team that entered the game ranked 14th in the NL in average (.231) and OBP (.292), and 13th in runs scored (307), that kind of performance is concerning.
Every Red Sox pitcher allowed at least one run to score except for Burke Badenhop, who pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings. From starter Brandon Workman, who allowed a career-high six runs in his four innings, to Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa, who combined to allow six runs in the ninth, to Felix Doubront, coming out of the bullpen to relieve Workman and giving up three runs in 1 1/3 innings, and Edward Mujica, who gave up a first-pitch home run. It was a mound of disaster.
The six runs allowed in the ninth was a season high for one inning.
It was one for the record books for the Cubs, whose 10 extra-base hits were their most since Aug. 30, 2010, while their four home runs were the most since Sept. 10, 2013. The last time they recorded 10 extra-base hits with at least four home runs was June 14, 2005. Every Cubs batter had at least one hit and one run scored, and all but Anthony Rizzo had at least one RBI. Justin Ruggiano had a career-high five RBIs.
“It was a rough night from the mound,” manager John Farrell said. “Starting off, Brandon had a difficult time getting the ball down in the strike zone. And in conditions where it’s hot, the wind is carrying the ball, we made a number of pitches up in the strike zone that they were able to take advantage of. And it just wasn't with Brandon. I felt like if we could get a couple of innings out of Felix to stem the tide a little bit, it didn’t work out quite as we had hoped."
The sweep was the sixth the Sox have suffered this season, including four at Fenway. It was the first time the Cubs have recorded a sweep on the road since taking three at San Francisco from July 26-28, 2013. The Cubs outscored the Sox 20-10 in the series.
The loss drops the Sox nine games below .500, matching their lowest point of the season, on May 25. That game marked the end of their season-long 10-game losing streak. What does this game mark? Will it be a turning point or just a way station to more rock bottoms?
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein wasn’t at Fenway for the series, staying back home in Chicago for a family matter. If he had been, he would have recognized the three games as a signature of the horrid September 2011 that marked the end of his tenure as Red Sox general manager.
The Sox’ nine runs equal their total of their previous three games. Despite the offensive performance, they still left 14 runners on base, going 4-for-12 with runners in scoring position. Over the first four innings, the Sox left nine runners on base, including leaving the bases loaded in the fourth when Xander Bogaerts, mired in offensive quicksand, struck out looking at a Carlos Villanueva slider with the bases loaded to end the inning.
Farrell, who huddled with general manager Ben Cherington and assistant GM Mike Hazen in his office after the game, was able to find a silver lining.
“Bigger picture is [I’m] still confident in our guys,” he said. “This is a one-game situation where from the mound it got away from us. But at the same time still have confidence in the guys in our clubhouse. Feel like we do and have done a very good job overall from the mound. So from a bigger-picture aspect, I think there’s very solid pitching, very good pitching, and defense inside our building right now. And yet we’ve got to look to continue to lengthen out our lineup.
“I will say a number of really positive things offensively, particularly the top half of the order, once again Brock Holt, [Dustin Pedroia], David [Ortiz], [Mike Napoli], a big night offensively. but still not enough to come back from the deficit here tonight.”
Those four batters accounted for 10 of the Sox’ 16 hits. And while Mookie Betts recorded two hits, including his first career home run, there was little else that went right.
The Sox have yet to get their pitching and offense working in synch.
“We have to continue to work with that in mind,” Farrell said. “There’s a full half-season to go here. We recognize fully where we are in the standings, and what our record indicates. And we’ve got to continue to work at that.”
Perhaps Thursday’s off-day couldn’t come at a better time.
“The quicker we can put this one behind us,” Farrell said, “the better.”