Ten minutes after one of the worst games of his life, Trevor Story emerged from the Red Sox clubhouse, bat tucked under his arm, and headed straight for the batting cage. He was joined by teammates J.D. Martinez and Alex Verdugo, as well as hitting coach Pete Fatse in what seemed likely to be part hitting session and part therapy.
Story never emerged from the cage before the Red Sox clubhouse closed to the media, just more than an hour after his postgame work commenced. But his marathon session said everything.
On a day when Shohei Ohtani delivered a memorable statement — 7 shutout innings, 11 strikeouts, no walks in an 8-0 Angels’ victory — in one of baseball’s cathedrals, Story got his first taste of Fenway as an unforgiving crucible. The Sox’ signature offseason acquisition got undressed by Ohtani, striking out in all four plate appearances against the wondrous Angels star.
The first two (one on a splitter, the second on a fastball) prompted awe of Ohtani. The third (slider) incited a murmur of boos. The fourth (fastball) led to a more full-throated indictment from the crowd of 29,476, a vocal referendum on a .210 average, .293 on-base, .296 slugging mark, and no homers in 21 games.
“It’s part of the equation,” manager Alex Cora shrugged of the boos. “Expectations are what they are here, and the fans expect the same thing that he expects.”
Story — who came to the Red Sox on a six-year, $140 million deal in March — is not the first prominent free agent to struggle on arrival in Boston. Immediate success for the team’s most prominent, long-term signees of the last 20 years (J.D. Martinez, and before him … Keith Foulke?) has been far less common than immediate struggles. David Price, Hanley Ramírez, Pablo Sandoval, Carl Crawford, John Lackey, J.D. Drew … the list goes on.
Some rebounded. Others pancaked as if crushed by a cartoon anvil. The Sox are willing to bet on Story being in the former camp, believing all that’s needed for the two-time All-Star’s full array of talents to emerge is time.
“Trevor’s a professional. He’s a proven All-Star. My first month here, I think I was hitting like .200 and then I turned it on,” Martinez suggested, inaccurately — he hit .200 the first two series in 2018, but was at .337 by the end of April. “I’m not putting anything past him. He’s a great player. He’s proven himself for a while now. I always like to measure guys at the end of the year, not after a month.”
Clearly, Story is willing to work until he gets to the point where he wants to go. But that he seemed to be searching such depths after Thursday’s game came as a bit of a surprise.
Story had started stinging the ball with increased authority and timeliness leading up to Thursday. A three-walk game on Sunday was followed by a sac fly on Tuesday, a blast to the track in center that in recent years typically careened off or cleared fences. On Wednesday, Story had a pair of key doubles.
Across the Sox, enthusiasm seemed to bubble. It looked like Story was close.
“It’s getting better,” Cora said before Thursday’s game.
But then, it got worse.
There’s only so much that should be taken from Thursday afternoon given the jaw-dropping stuff exhibited by Ohtani, who elicited a staggering 29 swings-and-misses — the most by the Red Sox against a pitcher in a single game dating to the 2008 start of the pitch-tracking era. The Angels righthander made many Red Sox look overwhelmed.
Yet none as overwhelmed as Story, particularly against Ohtani’s 95-100 mile-per-hour fastball. The freedom that the Angels felt to attack Story with heat merits an arched eyebrow. Against pitches of at least 95 m.p.h. since the start of 2021, Story is hitting just .214 (117th among 160 players who have seen 300 such pitches) and slugging .296 (133rd). This year, he’s 1-for-15 on high octane.
Those struggles might reflect Story’s choppy entry into the 2022 season. Certainly, for the Sox, they are not yet the sort of things to sound alarms, particularly as they see the work Story is willing to invest to extricate himself.
But for a high-priced group that has been a singular disappointment, Story is an obvious lightning rod for a fanbase that is agitated by a 10-16 team that has lost five consecutive series. And so, Story’s difficulty is multiplied, as he must navigate not only his own eagerness to escape his struggles, but also the magnifying scrutiny of his own new baseball home.
Perhaps there was a solution to be found in the cage as Story’s workday turned to night in pursuit of answers to questions that neither he nor the Red Sox expected. Or, at the least, solace.