Not much has gone right for the Red Sox in the last few weeks as they have plummeted in the American League East standings after dropping 11 of their last 13 games.
The latest example came in the sixth inning of Thursday’s 8-1 loss to the first-place Tampa Bay Rays. The game was tied 1-1 when Rays rookie Wander Franco came to the plate with a runner on first. An 11-pitch at-bat ended when Franco crushed a Tanner Houck-offering off the Wall in left-center, just to the left of the yellow line indicating a ball in play.
Yet the ricochet propelled the ball not back onto the field of play but instead off the base of the flagpole in center before rebounding onto the field. Initially, the ball was ruled a ground-rule double. But the umpires briefly conferred and correctly deemed the play a two-run home run, as Fenway’s ground rules stipulate that a ball off the Wall — even to the left of the yellow line — that lands out of play is a round-tripper.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Houck. “But that’s what you get whenever you’re in a historical ballpark with all the nooks and crannies and the layout of the field. Something new with baseball every single day, I swear.”
It’s difficult to fathom the spin that would produce such a deflection on a lefthanded batter’s inside-out swing to drive the ball to the left of center. For Alex Cora, the regular pre-game conversations about the Fenway Park ground rules surrounding the status of such a hit always seemed purely hypothetical.
“[The umpires] always talk about it,” Cora said. “I’m like, ‘I’m never going to see that.’”
Now, he’s seen it. Cora has also seen a 20-year-old hit a homer at the conclusion of an 11-pitch at-bat – a remarkable feat by a remarkable talent who has helped the Rays to a 17-8 mark since the All-Star break.
Like most things that have occurred during stretches in which the Sox have lost 11 of 14 and 19 of 31 – such as back-to-back losses on Sunday and Tuesday in which the team had a greater than 90 percent probability of winning – Franco’s homer boggled the mind.
So, too, did what ensued – albeit because of familiarity rather than novelty. Houck left trailing, 3-1 – a gap that left the Sox with a small measure of hope. Despair soon set in for a beleaguered bullpen.