CLEVELAND — Follow the bouncing ball, if you can.
Surely, the Red Sox couldn’t.
The Sox’ grotesque defense, which has haunted them this season, traveled to Cleveland for the second of a three-game set Wednesday night at Progressive Field, resulting in a 5-2 loss to the Guardians.
Bouncing ball No. 1. The Guardians’ Amed Rosario reached on a ground single that second baseman Enmanuel Valdez bobbled on a play up the middle in the fourth inning. Even if Valdez had fielded it cleanly, he had no play at first with the speedy Rosario hustling. Yet had Kiké Hernández taken charge at shortstop with his momentum going toward first and the ball on his side of the bag, the Sox had a better shot at getting Rosario.
Bouncing ball No. 2. The ball found Valdez again in the fourth. This time, it was Jose Ramirez who hit a grounder to Triston Casas, who booted it at first. The ball deflected to Valdez, who fielded it but lofted a looping, underhanded flip over the head of Casas, allowing Rosario and Ramirez to move into scoring position. One play, two errors. Josh Naylor’s RBI single tied the game at 2.
“Lack of effort, it’s not. Lack of execution, it is,” said manager Alex Cora. “It’s hard because you can’t get on them because they’re trying. Right now, it’s just not happening for us.”
Bouncing ball No. 3. With Kutter Crawford, who was scheduled to go just three or four innings, out of the game after three-plus innings and no outs in the fourth, Brennan Bernardino took over. Josh Bell grounded a ball to Rafael Devers’s backhand at third, but he booted it, scoring Ramirez and giving Cleveland its first lead, 3-2.
“Of course I’m not going to feel well after that play, even more so in that situation,” Devers said through a translator. “But we need to keep improving and keep working on our defense, just trying to get better. But of course, it’s a little frustrating.”
The forgettable frame came on the heels of some sloppy play by the Guardians in the top half of the fourth, which helped the Red Sox go ahead, 2-1. Valdez, with a runner on third and two outs, hit a grounder to Naylor at first. Naylor fielded it cleanly, but when he ran to tag the bag, he bobbled and dropped the ball, allowing a run to score.
Yet the Red Sox one-upped their opponents, giving them more than 27 outs — a theme of this season that has them back at .500 (31-31).
“We keep talking about it, we’ve got to get better,” Cora said. “But there’s enough talking about it. We have to perform.”
The Guardians tacked on two more in the fifth on RBI doubles by Rosario and Ramirez.
Offensively, the Red Sox didn’t have much for Guardians starter Tanner Bibee, who completed five innings, allowing four hits and two runs, one earned. The Sox were held to five hits total, leaving eight men on base, highlighting some of the offensive woes that have hindered this group the last few weeks or so.
“He didn’t throw a lot of strikes,” Cora said of Bibee. “We had situations and situational hitting where we didn’t perform. Obviously, toward the end, we put some traffic, it just didn’t happen.”
The Red Sox worked a 1-0 lead against Bibee in the first, who gifted Alex Verdugo with a free pass. Masataka Yoshida then singled up the middle. Later on, with one out in the frame, Devers fisted a single to left, scoring Verdugo.
Crawford made it through the first inning unscathed, but Naylor started the second with a double to center field. The next batter, Bell, wrapped an RBI single down the first base line to tie it.
“His fastball was a tick down compared to previous outings,” Cora said of Crawford. “But we stretched him out to the fourth. But we didn’t make plays behind him. But overall, a good one.”
The Red Sox are now 2-21 when scoring three or fewer runs. They have been held to two or fewer runs in 11 of their last 22 games.
But Wednesday’s loss was about the atrocious defense. Yet again.
“It’s frustrating because we’re working,” Cora said.