NEW YORK — It took nearly four months, but the Red Sox have veered off the road. And it’s not going to be easy getting straightened out.
They managed only five hits in a 9-1 loss against the Yankees on Sunday night before a rabid crowd of 40,309 in the Bronx. That’s six losses in the last eight games.
The slump has cut their lead in the American League East from 4½ games to a half-game ahead of Tampa Bay.
Now, the Sox have three games in Buffalo against the third-place Blue Jays, who have won four in a row, scoring 28 runs. Then, the Yankees come to Fenway Park on Thursday for the first of four games.
Buckle up. The pennant race is on.
“I think as a group we need to get better,” manager Alex Cora said.
The Sox were a season-best 22 games over .500 on July 5. They have a 5.73 earned run average since, and have hit .228 while averaging 3.75 runs.
“We haven’t hit,” Cora said. “We’ve been chasing pitches. We’re in one of those stretches … offensively we’re not near the team that we are. We know that.”
A competitive game got out of hand in the seventh inning, when the Yankees scored four runs on only two hits as Darwinzon Hernandez and Brandon Workman combined to walk five.
The Red Sox scored three runs in the second inning of the series opener on Friday, then only three runs in the 22 frames that followed.
“We need to continue to play hard. We are in first place. We need to act more like we’re in first place,” catcher Christian Vázquez said. “That’s the key for us. We need to be more cocky. We’re in a good place and we’re not acting like that.”
The Yankees are still seven games back and have an assortment of issues, but taking two of three from the Sox gave them a stronger heartbeat in the division race. After winning the first game of the series, the Sox let their rivals up.
“We’re still one of the best teams in baseball. We’re going to be fine,” said Martín Pérez, who lasted only four innings and took the loss. He allowed three runs on five hits.
It was the fifth time in his last eight starts that Pérez (7-6) was unable to record an out in the fifth. He has a 6.23 ERA in that stretch.
The Yankees got their offense started in the second inning when Gleyber Torres belted an 0-and-2 fastball to left for his fifth home run. Pérez left the pitch in the strike zone.
Greg Allen singled with one out in the third inning and went to third on a hit-and-run single by DJ LeMahieu. The aggressive strategy worked for Yankees manager Aaron Boone, as Allen scored when Giancarlo Stanton grounded into a force at second base.
It was Stanton’s first RBI in nine games against the Red Sox this season.
Rougned Odor bunted for a single to start the fifth inning as the Yankees stayed with small ball. Ryan LaMarre followed with a single to right field. Odor challenged the arm of Hunter Renfroe and was safe at third on what was scored a throwing error as the ball bounced past Rafael Devers. (Devers contributed by missing an attempt at a swipe tag.)
That was all Cora wanted to see of Pérez. Garrett Whitlock came in and allowed a sacrifice fly by Allen before getting the final two outs.
Whitlock retired all six batters he faced, dropping his earned run average to 1.38 over 45⅔ innings. He has struck out 50.
Yankees starter Jameson Taillon (5-4) allowed four hits over 5⅓ innings. Three were doubles by Xander Bogaerts (fourth inning), Vázquez (fifth inning), and Bogaerts again in the sixth inning. The Sox failed to push runs across all three times.
Their best chance was in the sixth, when J.D. Martinez singled and went to third on the double by Bogaerts. With Taillon at 91 pitches, righthander Chad Green came in.
He struck out Devers on a check swing that was called a strike by third base umpire Jeff Nelson. Devers stared at Nelson while standing at the plate, then on his way back to the dugout gave plate umpire Manny Gonzalez grief.
Cora came out of the dugout in a hurry to keep Devers from being ejected. Renfroe then grounded out to leave the runners stranded.
The Sox finally scored in the eighth inning on a two-out single by Renfroe.