The Boston Red Sox continued their four-game series against the Cleveland Indians Wednesday night at Fenway Park. Making his long-awaited return from the disabled list was Jacoby Ellsbury, playing in just his tenth game of the season. On the hill for the Red Sox was Jon Lester, who had lost all three of his starts since the All-Star Break. The Indians countered with former Red Sox member Justin Masterson, whose most recent start had been his worst of the season, giving up eight earned runs while just pitching into the sixth inning. However, the Red Sox were not thinking about his most recent loss. They were more concerned with his June 9 complete game shutout against Boston, a game in which the Red Sox were in it until the 8th inning, when the Indians scored 8 runs against the weaker elements of Boston’s bullpen. The Indians won that game 11-0. Wednesday’s game did not go much better.
Lester started out strongly, retiring the first six batters he faced. However, in the third inning he found himself with runners on first and second with nobody out. Lou Marson dropped down a sacrifice bunt, but Lester fielded it quickly and saw that he had time to go to third and nail the lead runner. Unfortunately, his throw went over Adrian Beltre’s head, and Andy Marte came around to score. Lester settled down and finished the inning without giving up another run, but he found himself in a similar situation in the fifth inning. With men on first and third with nobody out, Lester first gave up a sacrifice fly to Asdrubal Cabrera, then watched as catcher Kevin Cash missed a pitch outside that rolled to the backstop. It was ruled a passed ball, but it allowed Jason Donald (2-5, two runs scored) to go to second. He would later advance to third on a ground out and then score on an RBI double by Shelley Duncan. At this point Lester appeared to cramp up in his left leg, however he was able to stretch it out and stay in the game.
Lester pitched in the sixth inning, failing to record an out while giving up a solo home run to Jayson Nix and a subsequent single. He was then pulled for Scott Atchison, who got out of the inning via a fly out and a nifty double-play that he started. Unfortunately, Atchison’s second inning of work didn’t go nearly as well. With one man on, Victor Martinez let a ball go under his glove and roll into right field. It was a two base error that put men on second and third with none out. After an intentional walk that loaded the bases, Marco Scutaro made the second error of the inning and the third of the game, throwing inaccurately home on a grounder hit to him with the infield pulled in. The throw pulled Cash off the bag, and the run scored. After a fielder’s choice play, with Scutaro SUCCESSFULLY throwing out a runner at home, and a Nix sacrifice fly (his second RBI of the night), Andy Marte hit a three-run home run into the Green Monster seats. By the time the inning was over, the Indians had scored five times and had a 9-1 lead (David Ortiz hit a solo home run in the bottom of the sixth, which helped chase Justin Masterson from the game after just five innings of work). This score would hold up, with neither team scoring in the eighth or ninth innings. The Indians beat the Red Sox 9-1. Masterson picked up the win, and Lester suffered the loss.
The Red Sox at the Plate
Adrian Beltre was responsible for two of Boston’s six hits for the night, including a double. David Ortiz had the most memorable Boston hit of the night- his solo homer- but otherwise only had an average night, going 1-3 with a walk, an RBI, and a run scored (both came via the solo shot). Victor Martinez also reached base three times: a double and two walks. Other than that, no one had a strong night at the plate. Jacoby Ellsbury’s return from the DL was utterly forgettable, as he went 0-5. Perhaps starting him in the leadoff spot was a mistake. While this is certainly the spot in the lineup he is most comfortable in, as well as the spot where he can do the most damage offensively, it might still have been better to bat him at the end of the batting order (some teams have had great success with a speedy player hitting out of the ninth spot) and ease him back into the lead-off spot. Unlike Boston’s last game against Masterson, this was not a case of the pitcher just completely dominating the hitters. The Red Sox picked up six hits and nearly as many walks (five) in this game. They just could not drive any runners in. The Red Sox left nine men on base and went 0-9 with runners in scoring position. If you can’t drive runs in, you can’t win games. The occasional solo shot on its own usually won’t get it done. The Red Sox batted themselves out of this game, although the bullpen certainly didn’t do them any favors.
The Red Sox on the Mound
Jon Lester had a poor game tonight. It’s as simple as that. He didn’t do what he normally does, which is pitch phenomenally for awhile, then completely implode for an inning and give up a bunch of runs, then shut batters down again and hope that his team can come back. This time he spaced his runs (only half of which- two out of four- were earned) out over several innings, which in some ways is more frustrating. His change-up was strong, but his fastball was often high in the zone, leading to trouble. When you consider that he’s now lost every start since the All-Star Break, you have to really wonder if he is starting to backslide in his development. Scott Atchison, meanwhile, despite not giving up any EARNED runs, let this game get out of hand. Before the seventh, the Red Sox were down three and maybe felt like they at least had a shot at getting back into the game. After the seventh, however, any such hopes were gone, crushed beneath Atchison’s sheer inability to pitch. Simply put, he is a bad relief pitcher. The Red Sox needed bullpen depth, and the trade deadline passed without them acquiring it, and now they are paying for it. Even if the Red Sox were going to make the playoffs, which few believe is likely, they could not possibly do so and hope to suvveed if their middle relief is as poor as Scott Atchison is. The other two Red Sox to pitch tonight, Manny Delcarmen and Dustin Richardson, did their job, allowing just one hit and no walks or runs between them. They have both shown flashes of competence, it is just a matter of consistency with them. Atchison seems to me to be a lost cause, however, and the only option for him is to be sent back to Pawtucket or designated for assignment.
The Game in Context
Reports have shown that ratings for Red Sox games have dropped substantially when compared with previous seasons, and any number of factors (including injuries, the lack of exciting personalities, and the afterglow of two championships in six years) have been reported. However, what has not been discussed is “the feeling” that can grip a fan-base. It is the subconscious belief that, no matter what they do, your team is just not going to reach the playoffs, not going to win it this year. You know “the feeling” has struck when people start muttering “it’s just not our year.” The last time this happened to Red Sox Nation was in 2006 (another year marred by injury), and “the feeling” came on about this time. Everyone just kinda knew the Red Sox weren’t going to the playoffs this year, so they stopped caring. In 2006, however, we had David Ortiz’s quest to break the single-season franchise home run record, a goal which he accomplished. We still had a reason to watch the games, even if we didn’t care about the outcome. Now we’re in the same situation: we all know the Red Sox aren’t going to the playoffs this year, so why bother watching (especially with games as long as they usually are)? This team is fun only when it wins. There’s no drama in its losses, no personality or fun, nothing to help assuage the negative emotions associated with loss. They just get beat. And if we don’t care (because if the team isn’t going to contend in October, any individual loss stops mattering), we’re not going to watch. Lester pitched poorly tonight, and the hitters followed suit. Hopefully tomorrow someone will step up and perform at a level commensurate with their potential and their salary. If not, who cares? This isn’t our year anyway.