NEW YORK — A significant part of what made the Red Sox such an appealing team last season was their willingness to be aggressive, or relentless as manager John Farrell was fond of calling his approach.
The Sox had their best on-base percentage in the first inning, running up pitch counts on opposing starters day after day. They led the majors in stolen base efficiency and ran into only nine outs at third base.
The Sox combined smarts with swagger, even finding a way for David Ortiz to steal four bases. No matter what they tried it worked, and a World Series championship was the result.
On Saturday afternoon against the Yankees, the Sox were more reckless then relentless in a 7-4 loss that was typical of this so-far exasperating season.
“We’re better than this,” Dustin Pedroia said.
John Lackey, who pitched well in his first two starts, allowed four home runs for the first time in his career. That was far too much of a deficit given the way the Sox are playing.
Carlos Beltran had a two-run shot in the first inning before Brian McCann and Alfonso Soriano went back to back in the fourth. McCann’s two-run shot in the sixth inning gave the Yankees a 6-2 lead.
“Just made too many mistakes,” Lackey said.
But the mistakes weren’t finished.
Trailing, 6-4, in the seventh inning, the Sox had runners at first and third with two outs and one of their best hitters, rookie Xander Bogaerts, at the plate.
The Sox had knocked Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda out of the game and were on the verge of the kind of comeback that defined last season.
After Bogaerts swung and missed at two fastballs from Dellin Betances, Farrell signaled for Carp to steal second. Carp did steal a base last season, one of two in his career, but isn’t particularly fast.
McCann easily threw out Carp to end the inning. The Red Sox did not put another runner on base and fell to 5-7.
Since taking two of three in Baltimore to start the season, the Sox are 3-6 and haven’t won two in a row.
Farrell was counting on Betances throwing a breaking ball in the dirt, a common strategy with an 0-and-2 pitch. Instead, the Yankees went with another reliable ploy, the fastball up.
“We gambled a little bit to get 90 feet,” Farrell said. “I know we’re down two with Xander at the plate . . . We sent him just to try to create something and being a little bit more aggressive. It didn’t work out.”
Carp, who had singled in two runs, knew he would be out when he saw where the pitch was.
“It’s about opportunities. Aggressive mistakes are the best kind of mistakes,” he said. “That’s what we pride ourselves [on] as a team, being aggressive and taking the extra base. It always helps out for us. It didn’t go our way today.”
The Red Sox, so efficient at the plate last season, are still seeking consistency. They are the only team in baseball not to have scored in the first inning, a result of their leadoff hitters posting a .303 on-base percentage.
The Sox also are 19 of 100 with runners in scoring position.
“We’re doing what we can. Trying different things as far as the lineup goes. Trying different combinations to get a little bit of a jump start,” Farrell said.
Pedroia was the latest to hit first and was 1 for 5. He has yet to draw a walk this season and is hitting .236 with three hits in his last 27 at-bats.
“I’ve been trying to do too much. You want to be a guy who starts everything up. Sometimes you have to take a step back and let the game come to you,” Pedroia said.
Pedroia did lead off the fifth inning with a double to the gap in right field. But the next three batters — Daniel Nava, Ortiz, and Mike Napoli — made three outs in a span of five pitches.
Not even a replay challenge that seemed like a clear candidate for reversal worked out for the Red Sox.
When Dean Anna doubled in the eighth inning for the Yankees, he lost contact with the bag after sliding. Replays clearly showed he was tagged out by Bogaerts and Farrell challenged the call.
The umpires decided quickly that Anna was indeed safe.
“We had five angles that confirmed his foot was off the base,” Farrell said. “When the safe call came back, it certainly raises questions if they’re getting the same feed we are. It makes you scratch your head a little bit.”
MLB officials said later their replay center did not have quick access to a good look at the play.
The Yankees have won two games in the four-game series. The finale is Sunday night with Felix Doubront facing Ivan Nova.
As the clubhouse emptied quickly, A.J. Pierzynski did his best to sound hopeful.
“We’re 12 games in,” he said. “Things are going to be fine. We’re going to be fine . . . I don’t think that there’s any reason to worry or panic or fret. I think at the end of the season people are going to be where they’re supposed to be and hopefully the Red Sox are in the playoffs.”
It sounded good. But it was reminder such words were never needed last season.