Red Sox

Fate keeps gifting the fumbling Red Sox opportunities, and Seattle’s another

The Red Sox appear as willing as anyone to let October be taken from them.

Red Sox fumble fly ball
Too many fly balls have been falling between too many fielders this season for the Red Sox, such as this Yoan Moncada shot Sunday in Chicago. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

COMMENTARY

In the Sunday Red Sox linescore, there are 1s in each half of the ninth inning. They did not end up there via equal means, but that doesn’t change their value one iota.

One came via Craig Kimbrel, who gave up a leadoff double and walked the bases loaded in the top of the ninth. One came via Garrett Whitlock, who was a pitch from mowing through the heart of the White Sox order in the bottom when his 0-2 fastball to Leury García left his hand.

Supposed to be up and away, it missed in the guts of the zone, and García did with his one opportunity what multiple Red Sox hitters couldn’t with their slew. 430 feet later, it was a 2-1 loss for both the game and the series.

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“It had to end that way, I think,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa told reporters. “We had the last hero.”

“We had our chances at the end there against Craig and we did a good job,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters, saying later “we’re playing good baseball.”

Remind me again which one is the out-of-touch 76 year old?

I kid, a little. Cora’s team going 8-8 amid a COVID-19 outbreak that’s literally ensnared half a major-league roster is quite good in a macro sense. To whatever degree it is a mess of their own making doesn’t change that, nor did anything that happened at Guaranteed Rate Field leave Boston looking out of place.

Chicago, safely playoff ensconced for months because the American League Central is abysmal, sits just two games ahead in the overall standings. They are no fundamental masterwork either.

And yet, that increasingly feels like the nicest thing to be said about these Red Sox. That they are, in fact, no worse than anybody else.

Five teams, two wild-card spots, three weeks to play. Peaking Toronto, with a comically deep lineup and the potential AL Cy Young in Robbie Ray, but who needed two late comebacks Saturday to not get swept in a doubleheader by Baltimore. The Yankees, an MLB-worst 3-12 since that 13-game win streak.

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Oakland, whose bullpen blew eight saves in a 19-game stretch ending Saturday. (The A’s lost Sunday, too, and barely won the season series with the last-place Rangers.) Seattle, hanging around despite being outscored by 57 runs thanks to 14 extra-inning and 30 one-run wins.

And the Red Sox, who fell behind Sunday on another fielding mistake when Kiké Hernández threw away a grounder, who let Kimbrel escape three pretty pedestrian performances by chasing too many curveballs, and who appear as willing as anyone else in the group to let October be taken from them.

Harsh? Maybe. But we’re going on two full months of squandering opportunities to deliver the happy ending to the feel-good story they spent most of the season building. That they still have that chance feels like something they’ve been given rather than something they’ve earned, and that they can’t close the deal only backs the theory.

I’m a lot more willing to forgive a game like Saturday, when another error lit the fuse on a five-run inning, but the offense capitalized on an early opportunity and Xander Bogaerts was stellar even beyond his ninth-inning magic behind second base. It was just nice to see a crooked number, and a promising rally not end up a sacrifice fly and a couple of strikeouts.

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But a wild-card chase that’s going to come down to games, to at-bats, to pitches, still somehow feels maddeningly beyond this team’s means. Garrett Whitlock has been a revelation. Hunter Renfroe and Hernández superb additions. And yet, as a group, they are consistently exposed in losses as the fundamentally flawed bunch they probably always were.

I don’t blame Chaim Bloom for that; given a directive and a budget, who could ask for more out of Kyle Schwarber, Travis Shaw, and Austin Davis? I don’t even really blame Cora, who’s stuck throwing Hansel Robles and the WooSox All-Stars out there.

They aren’t executing. They do the little things wrong even when they do the big things right. They’re a transitional bunch that had an October opportunity fall into their lap, and they’re in danger of letting it pass them by.

The Red Sox are down to six series: Three at Seattle; an eight-game homestand with the Orioles, Mets, and Yankees; and a Mid-Atlantic trip through Baltimore and Washington. Three of those teams are playing out the string. Two have a faint pulse in their wild-card races.

Who will step forward? The Mariners are nothing special, and for as difficult a place as Seattle is to play — Boston hasn’t won its annual (outside of 2020) series there since 2013 — the rotation lines up with Eduardo Rodriguez and Nate Eovaldi before the Tanner Houck spot on Wednesday.

The Mariners just lost a home series to 96-loss Arizona, for goodness sakes. The last Red Sox series win against a team currently better than .500 was seven weeks ago. Forget the outbreak.

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If not now, when?

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