With the question marks of the trade deadline scattered around the Red Sox clubhouse like mini land mines before their 4-2 loss to the Blue Jays Tuesday night, everyone did their best to tip-toe around them.
For the veterans, no matter how many times they’d done the mid-summer dance before, its steps never get easier.
“That’s what kind of happens this time of the year,” David Ortiz said. “It’s pretty uncomfortable until the deadline goes by.”
But for the younger players such as Xander Bogaerts, it was the kind of distraction he’d never dealt with before and the rookie was trying to somehow work his regular routine around all the elephants in the room.
“I’m a young guy, this is probably my first time going through something like this,” Bogaerts said. “I know it’s definitely got to be tough on the veteran guys. They’ve been around the game a long time so they kind of know what’s up.”
For all the uncertainty that was tugging at his clubhouse from seemingly all sides, Red Sox manager John Farrell couldn’t bring himself to think about the relief that would come once Thursday’s trade deadline passed.
“The way we’re wired,” Farrell said, “I don’t look past tonight.”
But there was too much floating around to ignore.
Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Andrew Miller were all trade fodder. Mike Carp and Felix Doubront had expressed unhappiness with their roles.
At best, the clubhouse was unsettled. Coming off their worst loss of the season, Farrell wanted to make sure that with so much uncertainty hovering, it didn’t unravel.
The task of bouncing back had to be balanced with having individual meetings with players about not letting the distractions deter them from the unchanging night-to-night goal of winning games, especially against a surging Blue Jays team that was trying to chase down the first-place Orioles.
But with their seventh loss in the past eight games, the Sox only slipped further as they dealt with the possibility that Lester might soon be dealt.
“We have a lot of guys around here that are pretty good at putting the distractions aside,” Dustin Pedroia said. “But we just haven’t played well enough to win games and that’s basically it.
“There’s obviously a lot of things going on, talk about this and that. But you can’t control that. You have to find a way to block it out and go play.”
A lifeless offense undermined a quality start from Rubby De La Rosa, who went six innings, giving up three runs on nine hits in his rematch from a week ago with Blue Jays righthander Marcus Stroman.
In that matchup, De La Rosa was roughed up for nine hits and seven runs in just four innings, while Stroman had the Sox wrapped around his finger, taking a no-hit bid into the seventh inning, striking out seven, and walking two over seven shutout innings.
With his numbers dramatically better at home than on the road this season, it made sense for De La Rosa to bounce back. But Stroman was just as dominant as he was a week ago, sitting down the first five batters before giving up a walk to Stephen Drew and a single to Bogaerts in the second.
The Sox managed to hang one run on him on Pedroia’s RBI double in the third, but otherwise the 23-year-old was still a nearly impossible puzzle to solve, efficiently mixing his five pitches (75 of 115 for strikes) and going seven innings with eight strikeouts while allowing just six hits.
Stroman got an early lead on Colby Rasmus’s solo home run to straightway center field in the second inning. Anthony Gose produced two more runs in the fourth with double to right field.
“I thought Rubby gave us an opportunity to win,” Farrell said. “He pitched with some men on base. With the exception of the 3-1 changeup to Gose that doesn’t get to the spot for the two-run double on his part, I thought he gave us a solid effort and we had probably three opportunities where we had multiple men on base and the timely hit was elusive.”
After Gose and Jose Reyes put together back-to-back one-out singles in the ninth, Melky Cabrera cashed in with a ground ball to shortstop to push another run across and make it 4-1. Bogaerts answered in the bottom of the inning with a solo homer over the Green Monster, but by then the late peep of offense was too late.
The Sox went 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position and left eight on base. They got just two hits from their 3 through 9 hitters, both from Bogaerts. In their past seven games, the Sox have scraped together just 14 runs.
“It’s been opportunities created and left at that,” Farrell said. “Recognize that runs have been a premium, opportunities have been present, but to complete it and finish it out with a timely base hit, particularly with two outs has been the key when we haven’t been able to drive some runs in.”
After the loss, Farrell announced that Brandon Workman would start the series finale in Lester’s place.
“Of course you want to keep Lester around and continue playing together,” Ortiz said. “He’s one of the best pitchers in the game. No question about it. I don’t know, man.
“It’s frustrating to see him going somewhere else. It’s just the situation that we’re facing right now. But we don’t want to go ahead of what’s going on. We’ve got to wait to see what’s going to happen.”
The Sox are nine-games into a run of 13 straight against division opponents. When they opened the gauntlet by crushing the Jays a week ago, they had hopes of climbing back into the playoff picture. Since then, though, they’ve lost seven of eight.
And as much the Sox are trying to focus on the day in front of them, they’ll go into Wednesday’s game with Thursday’s deadline — and all of its potential changes — staring them down.
“This game, you never know what’s going to happen,” Ortiz said. “You never know what’s next.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @julianbenbow.