NEW YORK — In the city of skyscrapers, the Red Sox suddenly find themselves looking up.
The Red Sox got swept by the Yankees in a day-night doubleheader Tuesday, dropping the evening affair by a 2-0 count after losing 5-3 in the first contest. With the two losses, the Sox dropped to 69-53 — a .566 winning percentage that is just behind that of the Yankees (68-52, .567) for both second in the American League East and the second wild card spot in the AL.
The Sox are 6-13 since July 29. Against teams with winning records, they’re 2-11 in that span.
“We’ve got to play better. That’s the bottom line,” manager Alex Cora said. “It’s frustrating that we are not playing the way we’re capable of, and it’s been going for a while.”
Both games were winnable. In the first contest, the Sox overcame an early 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 lead, the product of a two-out, two-run single by Xander Bogaerts in the top of the third inning and a solo homer by Christian Vázquez in the top of the fifth against Yankees starter Jordan Montgomery. It was the fifth homer of the year for the Sox catcher, and the first since June 27 — ending a drought that had reached 127 plate appearances.
With the lead, Cora removed Game 1 starter Tanner Houck after just four innings and 58 pitches in which the 25-year-old had allowed two runs on five hits (all singles) and no walks while striking out two. The manager sought nine outs from Garrett Whitlock, Josh Taylor, and Matt Barnes. That vision quickly fell apart.
Whitlock (4-2) walked two of the three batters he faced, prompting Cora to turn mid-inning to Taylor for a left-on-left matchup against Joey Gallo. He struggles against sliders but doesn’t chase them, as Taylor saw when he missed the zone with four of his six breaking balls to walk the bases loaded.
Luke Voit followed by flaring a two-run single to shallow center, just over the glove of diving second baseman Kiké Hernández, for a 4-3 Yankees lead. Giancarlo Stanton’s ringing single to center plated an insurance run.
The six-batter implosion by Whitlock (charged with the loss) and Taylor (blown save) added to a run of late-inning meltdowns by the Sox. In their last nine games against AL East varsity teams – the Yankees, Rays, and Blue Jays – the bullpen is 0-4 with three blown saves and 34 runs allowed in 25⅓ innings (12.08 ERA). They’ve walked nearly as many batters (23) as they’ve struck out (28) in those contests.
“We’re in August. It’s a tough month for everybody — for a bullpen, for everybody,” Vázquez said. “This is a marathon. This is not a sprint. We need to keep going, keep pitching and get the team together and get back on track like a team.”
The Sox lineup threatened to do just that in the seventh and final inning against Yankees righthander Jonathan Loaisiga. Kyle Schwarber, Vázquez, and Alex Verdugo opened the inning with three straight singles to load the bases. But Travis Shaw — in his first appearance with the Sox since 2016 — lined out on a 101 mph sinker, and Hernández and Hunter Renfroe struck out to end the game.
That game-ending sputter proved a harbinger of the second contest. Nate Eovaldi (10-8) pitched well enough to win, allowing only two solo homers — an opposite-field shot by Voit in the second inning and a 441-foot rocket by Stanton in the fourth — over five innings while striking out six and walking one.
“I felt like I was able to keep us within the ballgame, within reach,” Eovaldi said.
But the Sox offense could never grasp the opportunity Eovaldi tried to provide. The team went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position against a trio of Yankees pitchers — rookie righthander Luis Gil (4⅔ innings), lefty Wandy Peralta (1⅓ scoreless frames), and closer Chad Green (scoreless seventh).
Rafael Devers continued his recent struggles in run-scoring opportunities. He went 0 for 3 and stranded five runners in the second game, including a bases-loaded groundout into a fielder’s choice with two outs in the fifth against Peralta that spoiled the team’s biggest threat of the night game.
“I’ll take my chances with Raffy Devers with the bases loaded all the time,” Cora said.
That outlook is understandable given that Devers leads the big leagues in RBI. But during a 15-20 Red Sox slide dating to July 6, Devers is hitting .175/.273/.425 with runners in scoring position.
“I still go out there and try to be aggressive and try to come through. At that moment I wasn’t able to,” Devers said. “But I’ll just turn the page and when my name is called and I have that opportunity next time I’ll be able to come through.”
Both Cora and Eovaldi identified a silver lining in the form of a remade rotation that has a 2.64 ERA in the team’s last 11 contests. Yet for the Red Sox, that promise is tempered by the reality of their sinking place in the standings and a team that has struggled to align its different components.
Success in one area has often been undone by shortcomings in another. On Tuesday, that played out with one game lost by a bullpen that blew a lead and another by an offense that could never claim one, a pair of contests that left the team with an increasingly familiar feeling of emptiness at the conclusion of a long day in the Bronx.
“Obviously there [are] no moral victories. You come here, try to win games, and it didn’t happen,” Cora said. “We’re not happy that we lost two games, but the deflating part of it, the frustrating part of it, if people feel that way in the clubhouse, they need to turn the page and be ready to play [Wednesday]. From my end, you stay the course.”
But which course? The one that guided the team to the best record in the division now seems remote, with the Red Sox flailing in their efforts to rediscover it.