Commentary

Red Sox players are pressing. It feels like their bosses might never again.

Red Sox Yankees sweep
Xander Bogaerts grounded into a double play in the sixth inning Wednesday, another offensive chance lost for the Red Sox. AP Photo/Adam Hunger

PORTLAND, Maine — Chaim Bloom and I watched the latest disconsolate step in a dissolving season from the same vantage Wednesday night. Though he looked to be going more phone than the delayed blue pictogram above right-center field, sponsored by a suburban savings bank.

As the Globe reported earlier in the day, Boston’s chief baseball architect was not in New York to watch his Red Sox get swept by the Yankees, falling briefly out of playoff position just three weeks after they were eight games clear of the first team out. He was at Hadlock Field studying the Double A Sea Dogs, who remain a first-place team despite being a three-error mess against Binghamton.

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I had not seen said report when, on the last night of a family vacation here, I splurged for $17 reserved seats to that three-error mess. That I didn’t notice there was a celebrity in the boxes 20 feet below me until the ninth inning was a testament both to my 5-year-old’s freneticism and that no one was screaming at Bloom about Anthony Rizzo.

Chaim Bloom (bottom center, in gray) watched the end of Portland’s 5-2 loss to Binghamton on Wednesday at Hadlock Field.

There was still time for a comeback in the Bronx when Bloom posed for a fan’s selfie, slung on his backpack and departed reasonably unnoticed into the crowd, but it did not come because it doesn’t anymore. Since topping out at 63-40 on July 28, the Red Sox are 6-14, held to three runs or fewer in 11 of the 20 games.

Have they checked out after their front office essentially abandoned them at the trade deadline? I think it’s the exact opposite. An impatient, free-swinging team while building the AL’s best record across four months, they’ve gotten even more aggressive to try and stop things slipping away. (No team swings at a higher percentage of out-of-the-zone pitches than the Red Sox, and only Kansas City swings more overall.)

They’re pressing. They’re trying to do too much. And it’s not exactly tough to see.

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“That is such a big swing for Xander and the Red Sox. Feel like everybody can just take a deep breath,” Will Flemming said on the radio broadcast Wednesday after Xander Bogaerts … hit a simple first-inning solo homer. Which, for the record, came on a ball well out of the zone, albeit with two strikes.

When J.D. Martinez came up with a man on third in the fourth inning, he chased. When Hunter Renfroe came up with the leadoff man on in the sixth, he chased. When Kiké Hernández led off the ninth with the Red Sox needing baserunners against fresh-off-injury Aroldis Chapman, he flailed at ball four. (Though it was closer than anything Rafael Devers, 1-for-10 in the series, swung at.)

In fact, you could argue the whole series turned in Tuesday’s Game 1, when with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh, Hernandez chased a wild, 3-1 pitch that would’ve forced in a run. Instead, Boston didn’t score and lost.

“We’re pretty pissed at ourselves,” Renfroe told reporters Wednesday night. “Everybody is frustrated with themselves, beating themselves up.”

It goes deeper than the deadline, but it’s hard not to keep going back to that. Especially when Wednesday spun so much on Rizzo, still incomprehensibly in New York instead of Boston and critical to their 16 wins in 21 games. His two-run single off Bobby Dalbec’s glove was the big offensive blow Wednesday, and his sprawling stop on Devers in the ninth helped quash a Boston rally.

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“He came in and did exactly what they hoped,” said Red Sox third-base coach Carlos Febles. “He was a big contributor and helped them right away.”

He’s there because New York’s way to stay under the luxury tax was throw Chicago two high-level prospects, convincing them to pay the rest of Rizzo’s salary. Boston’s was to get Minnesota to do that for Quad-A reliever Hansel Robles, and for Bloom to dismiss deadline criticism as an “easy narrative.”

(Kyle Schwarber, his big acquisition, has two doubles and a .500 on-base in four games, and has been cleared to play the outfield.)

Of course, the Red Sox and Yankees aren’t in the same place in 2021. Not only was New York a preseason World Series favorite, as opposed to an expected alsoran, they are a decade and billions in payroll removed from their last championship.

They need to chase. The Red Sox don’t. And we’ve known they feel that way for a while.

Bloom came to Boston after John Henry (owner of the Red Sox and Boston Globe Media Partners, including Boston.com) evolved from money-appears-no-object to, “How much money are you willing to lose?” The answer, clearly, was no more, just as clearly as staying under that tax threshhold was a concern a few weeks ago.

Hey, at least they won four titles first. The Cubs settled for one before falling back on what chairman Tom Ricketts once observed about the team, “They sell every ticket, every game, win or lose.”

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“Now,” Tom’s father Joe Ricketts added, “you’re talking about a business. Now, you’ve got my interest.”

As the on-field has evolved more toward analytics, cold efficiency sapping imperfect beauty, the off-field has evolved more, well, off. Winning games has never felt less important to the bottom line, what with massive national TV deals and a spigot of gambling money just starting to flow.

Look at the Red Sox’ concern about development around Fenway. Look at the same around Wrigley Field. Look at Atlanta, decamping to the suburbs a couple years ago for big profits with their Battery development. Look at Oakland, ready to walk for Las Vegas because it can’t get the right development deal.

It is as gross as it is understandable. Winning’s hard. Winning costs money. Winning isn’t as repeatable as rent payments. Or in-game betting. Or on-uniforms advertisements. Or who knows what else.

We have gotten far afield from a promising season slipping away, from Josh Taylor and Garrett Whitlock finally hitting the wall at exactly the wrong time, from Bloom watching Double-A baseball while you burn. Much like the Baltimore series before this one, this next week at Fenway against Texas (42-78) and Minnesota (54-67) is a key moment to steady the boat and get right.

Despite how it feels, we’re still weeks away from the 2021 Red Sox becoming the first team to go from a 63-40 start to out of the playoffs in a 162-game season since 2011. (Yup. Those guys are the last ones.) Their story is not near written.

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Baseball’s, however, increasingly feels like it is. The luxury tax is not a salary cap, but it may as well be. (And baseball wants to significantly lower it and further penalize it in exchange for that “salary floor” they’re crowing about.) The home run and the strikeout are not the only results possible, but it increasingly feels like they will be.

And winning should be paramount, but there are increasing reasons for it not to be. Leaving an experience not unlike Double-A baseball for a 5-year-old.

Where the result doesn’t matter so long as you get a stuffed seal and a hot dog at the end.

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