On Sunday, Red Sox manager Alex Cora was asked if a 9-8 loss to the Blue Jays qualified as the worst defeat of the year.
"It's a tough one," he said. "It is."
On Tuesday, the Red Sox returned to Fenway Park after that disastrous 2-8 road trip, hoping a taste of home could help them regain their footing vs. the streaking Tampa Bay Rays. If you're wondering how that went, here's the first question Cora answered after the game:
"Can it get any worse than this, Alex?"
"I hope not," Cora replied.
The complete and utter unraveling of the Red Sox continued unabated on Tuesday in a game that saw them take a 4-1 lead before once again imploding in all of the now-familiar ways.
They failed to plate a runner from third with one out that could've broken open the game. They threw to the wrong base, let an easy foul pop drop, and gifted the Rays an insurance run with a misplay in right field. A normally reliable member of the bullpen -- this time Garrett Whitlock -- allowed the Rays to forge a tie. A formerly reliable member of the bullpen -- overworked closer Matt Barnes -- allowed four runs in the ninth, his gas gauge reading E.
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The 8-4 loss dropped the Red Sox a season-high five games behind the Rays, their lead over the Yankees in the wild card race chopped to a perilous two games. They lead the Jays by three games despite Toronto's run differential being nearly 100 runs better. What's left to say? That the Red Sox are collapsing epically? That they were never good to begin with? That not even Chris Sale can save them?
Over the course of four months, the Red Sox meticulously built a small lead over the Rays and a big one over the Yankees and Jays. They did it with better-than-expected pitching, a top-five offense, and a bullpen that really hit its stride sometime in May. Night after night, comeback after comeback, they found a way.
Now they have lost their way. To see it all come crashing down like a stable Jenga tower toppled by a golden retriever is not made any less shocking by the fact that none of us expected them to be here in the first place.
"We've been talking about defense and baserunning and putting the ball in play with men on third since spring training," Cora said. "We go through ups and downs. They're trying, but we've got to be better. We've been talking about that since Day 1.
"We have a good team, but we have to keep working at what we're trying to accomplish, and get better on the field from 7 to 10:30. We've been on that rollercoaster going up and down. I said it a few days ago and I'm going to keep saying it. For us to do this, we have to play a better brand of baseball."
This feels like it's rapidly reaching point-of-no-return territory, and as much as I'd like to blame ownership and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom for failing to provide adequate support at the trade deadline, the players must be held accountable, too.
It's not John Henry's fault that left fielder J.D. Martinez threw to third instead of second in the seventh, allowing the tying run to scoot into scoring position ... although if the Sox had traded for a healthy outfielder instead of Kyle Schwarber, maybe Martinez would've been DHing. And it's not Bloom's fault that first baseman Franchy Cordero overran and then underran a foul pop-up in the ninth ... although maybe it kind of is, since Cordero is only playing out of position there because Bloom failed to acquire a serviceable first baseman on July 30.
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We certainly can't blame ownership for Whitlock inexplicably holstering his dominating changeup and pumping fastball after fastball in the seventh, when the Rays tied the game. Nor can we put it on anyone other than All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts that he failed to deliver a runner from third with one out in the fifth, flying lazily to shallow left when virtually any other contact would've made the score 5-1 and given the Red Sox breathing room.
The Rays, with their nothing payroll and no-name players and prospects who just keep rolling off an eternal assembly line, are the team that played like it knew it would win even while losing.
For months that club was the Red Sox. Now they're just left to hope that maybe the next loss won't be as devastating as the last one.