The Red Sox had a players-only meeting in a socially-distanced fashion in an outdoor area at the team’s hotel Saturday before that evening’s game against the New York Yankees.
Though the team was barred from physically standing in close proximity to each other, their woeful season rubbed shoulders with its mental impact on the team, which was pressing for a win.
After Sunday’s 4-2 setback to the Yankees, the Sox (6-16) would have to wait another day to accentuate the positive of what to this point has been a nightmarish year. It was pockmarked by a third consecutive loss in this four-game set against the host Bronx Bombers, who have won nine straight overall and 14 of the last 15 meetings against the Red Sox since last Aug. 2.
Chris Mazza, in his first career major league start, allowed four runs on eight hits — the fewest runs allowed by a Red Sox starter since last Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Blue Jays — and was bolstered by a stellar shutout effort by a trio of relievers (Ryan Weber, Ryan Brasier and Marcus Walden) who combined for five scoreless innings. But it was all undermined by a short-circuited offense that produced only two runs on five hits, the biggest of which was Kevin Pillar’s third-inning solo homer off Yankees lefthanded starter J.A. Happ.
“Things aren’t going really well,” Pillar said. “This one is tough. We got a good outing from our starter. Our relievers pitched really well. In baseball, it’s strange. When things aren’t going well, you just seem to not be catching breaks.”
Pillar said the meeting was for players to air their feelings, a venting session in a way. It also served as was a reality check for a team to not become inundated by their woeful state.
“We just talked about the things I mentioned,” Pillar said. “Stop feeling sorry for ourselves. Stop putting the added pressure on us as individuals — especially for the guys who haven’t gotten off to a good start — thinking that there’s not enough time to turn the season around.”
Mazza made his first career major league start in his second appearance of the season for the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium.
Recalled from the team’s alternate training site, as the Red Sox continued to piece together a paper-thin pitching rotation, Mazza made his 11th career appearance as the 11th different starting pitcher the team has trotted out in this tortured season.
The Red Sox hoped to seize upon the promise Mazza showed in his Boston debut Aug. 1, when he faced the Yankees and threw 2⅔ innings of scoreless relief in a 5-2 loss at Yankee Stadium, where the 30-year-old righthander allowed one hit, a pair of walks and recorded three strikeouts on 48 pitches.
In his three innings of work Sunday night, Mazza showed no such promise after allowing four runs on eight hits.
Mazza threw 66 pitches (40 for strikes) and didn’t allow hard contact in the first inning, with the notable exception of a hard-hit single by Gio Urshela that registered at 108.4 miles per hour. It was a bolt of lightning in comparison to the singles struck by Mike Tauchman and Mike Ford (whose RBI single scored Urshela) that came in at just 73.4 and 73.5 m.p.h., respectively.
Mazza’s unfortunate bounces, though, continued in the second inning.
With Brett Gardner on second and two outs, Aaron Hicks grounded to first baseman Michael Chavis. But the ball kicked off the bag and into right field, allowing Gardner to come around for a score and a 2-0 lead.
In the third, after the Red Sox scored on a Pillar’s line-drive solo homer to left field, Mazza fell into a bit of trouble that marked the end of his night.
Mazza left a hanging sinker to Ford with Gleyber Torres on first. Though it was elevated and out of the zone, it wasn’t up enough. Ford crushed it for a two-run homer, giving the Yankees a 4-1 lead.
“I know they got runs off him, but they didn’t really hit the ball hard,” said manager Ron Roenicke. said. “He gave up eight hits and two of them were squared up. The numbers look worse than how he pitched. I think he threw the ball well.”
What was clear was the absentee offense failed to deliver. If there was a Yankees starter the Red Sox could have taken advantage of, Happ would have been the one. He entered the game winless with a 10.29 ERA in two starts. Yet, the Sox registered just one run on three hits against Happ, who lasted 5⅔innings but challenged Boston hitters with a steady dosage of four-seam fastballs (38 times total).
“We still can’t get that big hit that we need,” Roenicke said. “And then when we have some guys on, we can’t get that big one that will bust it open. We’re still not clicking and running those hits together.”
Down to their last three outs, the Red Sox threatened to tie it when Christian Vazquez reached on a one-out double off Zack Britton. After he went to third on a wild pitch, Vazquez scored when Jose Peraza, pinch-hitting for Mitch Moreland, reached on a fielding error by Britton.
Britton got out of the jam when he fanned Kevin Plawecki to end the game.
“Any time that you can grab the team together and give guys [the chance] to speak what’s on their minds, I think it’s good to get them together to do that,” Roenicke said. “Sometimes right away it [comes out] where it really makes a difference. I’d say most of the time, it probably doesn’t. Most times, something clicks in the game that gives them energy.”
The Red Sox, however, were left still searching for that missing element to their season