ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There are 24 other guys who should be wearing the “L” on the forehead, their chest, next to their baseball card. Whatever you want to write that “L” on.
But the fact of the matter is Andrew Miller has been tagged with four of them since May 13, including Saturday’s 6-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in the 15th inning of a marathon that sent Boston to its ninth straight loss.
Miller is a good reliever in general, one who throws 97 miles per hour on his good days. The fact that he hasn’t been able to get through clean innings lately is one of many baffling aspects of this 2014 Red Sox.
The final play in Saturday’s loss was crazy. Crazy like the last nine games. The Sox led, 5-0, after one inning against David Price, one of the best pitchers in baseball. Then their nonexistent offense took its normal respite and allowed the Rays to chip away at Jake Peavy until they tied it in the fifth inning.
From the first inning through the eighth, when Price was finally out, the Sox managed one measly hit. Their offense struggled to score, and there’s Miller out for the 15th, another chance to redeem himself. But he adds another “L” to his column, when he threw a ball into center field trying to start a double play on a chopper by Desmond Jennings, allowing Cole Figueroa to score the winning run from second.
How else can the Red Sox lose a game? How else can they make this last 10 days about as painful a stretch as you’ve seen by a Red Sox team in years?
We’ve already gone over how bad this team is right now in previous columns. We’ve stated the problems. We’ve stated the possible solutions.
When A.J. Pierzynski, DHing because David Ortiz was out with calf and hamstring issues and Mike Napoli was out with recurring finger issues, hit a three-run homer in the first, that seemed like the hit of the century.
It seemed like a hit that could turn this rotten team around.
Pierzynski was pumped and jacked as he entered the dugout after his shot to right field. He should have been. It was a huge hit, and you never think that a five-run lead is going to be squandered.
Peavy managed to do that little by little.
“With runners at first and second, we’re looking to knock down the lead runner,” manager John Farrell explained about Miller’s miscue in the 15th. “There was a call to go to second base and [Dustin Pedroia’s] a little bit in between. By the time he’s trying to re-gather and get back over the bag, the ball is already by him and in center field. The ball was chopped, and then the break. I believe the time that Figueroa had, the call was to go back to second base, and that’s where the gap was made.”
So the play would have been to go to third if the ball didn’t chop to Miller, so the decision was made to go to second base.
The inning started with James Loney stroking a clean single to center. On Brandon Guyer’s bunt, Miller and third baseman Brock Holt froze and Guyer reached with a base hit while pinch runner Figueroa, Friday’s hero, went to second.
“The way it came out, the only chance I thought we had was if Brock could make the play and I don’t think he could have,” Miller said.
Jennings then was asked to bunt the runners along. He fouled off two attempts, but finally swinging away, sent the chopper to Miller.
“Got Jennings to two strikes trying to bunt, which was big,’’ said Miller. “I just turned around and went to go throw. Like instincts, you spin around, as I started to see everything unfold at the last second, I felt I didn’t have a play. I didn’t have anybody getting to the bag and didn’t have time to hold on to the ball. I felt like the ball came back to me and I tried to make the play. In my head I was going to second base, and I just should have been able to hold on to the ball.”
Asked if he had a play at third he said, “You can’t do that. That’s a play you never make. That’s a disaster waiting to happen. You just never get a ground ball and throw it to third. The Tigers famously screwed that up in the World Series. You just don’t do that. The play is to go to second. Jennings is a fast runner, but we had a double-play opportunity.”
Every set of circumstances seems to come up on the negative for the Red Sox. It’s just the way it is right now. And Miller has the bad numbers — four walkoff losses.
“I feel like I’ve got four losses attached to my name in the last 11 days and that sucks. The goal in this game is to win and feel good about yourself afterward. Right now I’m the one who has been stuck on the field a bunch of times and it feels like crap and I don’t want to be there anymore. My job is to put up a zero and I didn’t do it,” Miller said.
Miller is the one who threw the ball in center field for sure. It’s his error, his loss. But Pedroia couldn’t get to the bag and Jonathan Herrera, who had come into play shortstop for the injured Xander Bogaerts, seemed to be dancing near the second base bag, but never covered.
“Nobody wants to lose one game, let alone a streak like this,” Miller said. “All 25 guys and this staff are doing everything they can to dig themselves out of this hole. I’m as much a part of that as anybody. I have to show up tomorrow and put this behind me.”
This is the worst of times. Having to play 15 innings and then losing.
And now they’re relying on Brandon Workman to save the day and end the skid in his first start since being called up from Pawtucket. After the game, assistant GM Mike Hazen and John Farrell were trying to figure what to do about their bullpen for Sunday’s game after going through eight pitchers Saturday.
Sure, Miller was the guy who threw the ball away. But 24 other guys helped throw the game away, too.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.