To their credit, they understood they really needed it. After 4-1 and 5-3 losses in the Bronx, the Red Sox hit Sunday night back at .500, 0-4 against the Yankees to start their year. It’s early, and yet, it isn’t.
“We’ve all got to lock in and get going,” said Rick Porcello, who gave up one big hit on Saturday, but it was one too many. “We’ve got to be ready to fight every night. That’s the bottom line. Everybody. All cylinders, 25 guys got to be ready to win ballgames each and every night and we don’t have a whole lot of room to wait around at this point.
“We’ve got to go.”
They did on Sunday night, clawing out an 8-5 victory the Yankees somehow seemed intent on handing them. Three single runs early, then holding that lead in the fourth when the Yankees — two in, two on, and two out — ran into the third out. They built back the lead when Clint Frazier played three singles into, essentially, two doubles and a triple, then needed those runs when Matt Barnes didn’t react well to pitching in a dousing thunderstorm.
No matter. Thirteen hits, including big flies by Xander Bogaerts and back-hitting-again J.D. Martinez. Another critical start from David Price, who’s been a savior and good enough to win in seven of his last eight outings.
“We needed today,” said Price, now 1-6 in seven starts with the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. “We needed to come out and beat those guys the way that we did. That was big for us.”
It was. And yet, they are still six behind Tampa Bay and 8½ behind the Yankees, just 30-29. In this testing stretch they just completed, they lost 2 of 3 to Houston, which lost just one series in May. They lost 2 of 3 to Cleveland, which promptly lost 3 of 4 to a bad White Sox team this weekend and went back to not hitting after leaving Boston. And they lost 2 of 3 to New York, Adam Ottavino — the Northeastern grad who got away this winter — coming up big in critical moments of both losses, games which were well within the Red Sox’ grasp.
They have the sixth-best record in the American League, two in the loss column behind Texas, an entirely forgettable squad whose best hitters (Hunter Pence and Shin-Soo Choo) will probably be dealt at the trade deadline. Through 59 games, they’ve done nothing to dismiss the idea they’ll be a playoff team come October.
They also, however, have done nothing to make anyone think they’ll make much noise when they get there. They could, of course, but couldn’t they also win more than one series against a potential playoff opponent one of these months?
“We know we need to keep improving,” Alex Cora said on Sunday night. “All over the place, we have to keep getting better.”
One of the consistent threads throughout this golden era of Red Sox baseball has been understanding panic doesn’t help anyone. For whatever reason it exists, it clearly does. Down 0-3 to the Yankees in 2004. Down 1-3 to the Indians in 2007. Two innings from dropping the first two at home to the Tigers in 2013. They really do just worry about winning today, and will take that same attitude into Kansas City, a team that — at 19-40, unfair as this is for any road series where a fill-in starter will be used — they really ought to sweep.
The schedule will keep offering them opportunities to establish a beachhead, be it the four at Fenway against the Rays starting Friday, their one series in Minnesota from June 17-19, the two in London against the Yankees … it wasn’t but three weeks ago that Boston obliterated Seattle and pulled within three games of the top of the division.
It’s clutch hitting — their .788 OPS with runners in scoring position is the same sixth in the AL that they are, the category led by surprises Minnesota and Texas.
It’s starting pitching — their quality start percentage is, you guessed it, sixth.
It’s finding that one critical bullpen tentpole beyond Matt Barnes — we’ve discussed the ‘pen ad nauseam here, but the fact remains it’s squandered eight potential victories handed it by its starters, one of baseball‘s worst totals.
There are certainly questions to be asked about roster construction: The Globe‘s Peter Abraham raised some regarding Steve Pearce, and my Twitter mentions turned into a full-on debate on the topic this weekend. This roster, however, can obviously compete with any in the 2019 game: Mookie Betts and Martinez are still stars, Rafael Devers and (to a lesser degree, given his pedigree) Bogaerts are having breakout seasons, Chris Sale is far better than his 4.35 ERA and the team’s 3-9 record when he pitches …
We’re gonna need to see it in real life. We should, too. But then again, we should have already.
And they’re 30-29, 8½ back, sixth in the American League.