Nine thoughts on the Red Sox’ 6-2 loss to the Yankees in Game 2 of the ALDS . . .
1. David Price was greeted with a warm ovation when he walked out to the bullpen before his Game 2 start against his nemesis Yankees. When he departed the mound for the night after less than two innings of work, let’s just say the response was considerably colder. The pregame cheers were optimistic, and ultimately wishful. Price was horrible once again in the postseason, horrible once again against the Yankees, and wholly deserving of the cascading boos that accompanied him back to the dugout after giving up three runs, allowing two homers, and recording just five outs in what would be his 10th postseason start without a win. Maybe you expected this – it certainly wasn’t a shock considering that in four previous starts against the Yankees this year, he had a 10.34 ERA, with nine home runs allowed in 15⅔ innings. I remained the sucker. I’ve figured some form of redemption would eventually come for a pitcher of his ability, but right now that feels like expecting October success from him is the silly daydream of a damn fool.
2. The one thing we should all agree on right now is that Price should just direct Gary Sanchez to first base and move on to the next hitter up any time he has to face him in the near future. Intentionally walking a guy who hit .186 this season might seem a counterproductive approach, but it doesn’t seem that way if you’re familiar with the history of Price vs. Sanchez. Sanchez came to the plate 17 times in his career against Price entering Saturday’s game. In those plate appearances, he walked four times, struck out twice, singled once . . . and hit five home runs, good for a .462/.588/1.615 slash line and a 2.204 OPS, which is mathematically possible but does not seem humanly possible. Naturally, Sanchez homered in his first at-bat in the second inning, making it six home runs in 18 plate appearances.
3. In his career, Sanchez doesn’t have much of a platoon split. In 844 plate appearances against righthanders, he owns an .839 OPS and 51 homers. Versus lefties: 20 homers in 286 plate appearances and .872 OPS. But in this year’s regular season, he’s been significantly better against lefties (.872 OPS) than righties (.636 OPS, and a .171 batting average). That’s my way of saying it’s hardly an unfair second-guess to wonder whether Alex Cora should have brought in a righthander to face Sanchez in the top of the seventh, when he launched a three-run homer off of lefty Eduardo Rodriguez to break it open at 6-1.
4. The Red Sox had managed to keep the game close thanks to superb relief work from Joe Kelly — honest, he was great! That Joe Kelly! — and Ryan Brasier, who provided one of the rare satisfying moments of the night when he cursed at Sanchez and waved him to get back in the box before striking him out. Rodriguez had done his part in the bottom of the sixth, when he came in with two runners on and retired Andrew McCutchen and Brett Gardner to escape the jam. But leaving him in to face Sanchez, who entered with a career 1.065 OPS against Rodriguez, was a case of Cora pushing his luck. Perhaps Heath Hembree, who came on for the eighth, would have been the better option there, though that also doubles as an indictment of the Red Sox’ bullpen depth.
5. I’ll admit to skepticism about the Red Sox’ now-ruined plan to use Steven Wright in a significant relief role in the postseason, with my general rule of thumb being: “Knuckleballers . . . eh, can’t trust ‘em.” Blame Tim Wakefield and the old nemesis the Yankees dugout for that. But upon further consideration, losing him to injury again is a legitimate blow. Wright made 20 appearances during the regular season, pitching to a 2.68 ERA in 53⅔ innings. In 19 of those appearances, he gave up two or fewer runs. In the other appearance, June 22 loss to Seattle, he allowed 10 runs in 3⅓ innings. Remove that start from his ledger and he would have had a 1.07 ERA in 50⅓ innings. He was quietly extraordinary and underestimated here. Imagine he would have had a meaningful role in Saturday night’s game had that troublesome knee not ruined the plans.
6. The first Yankees’ first homer off Price came via the second batter of the night, when the immense Aaron Judge annihilated Price’s offering for his second home run of the series. At last check, the ball was still in flight and reportedly nearing New Zealand airspace. At some point, I should probably retract my two-year old take that Andrew Benintendi will be better overall in the long run than Judge, an exceptional slugger who also happens to be a complete player. He has more home runs in the postseason (3) than Benintendi has since July 8, a span of 286 plate appearances.
7. Price melting like a discount-store candle is the story of the night, as it should be. But it cannot go unacknowledged that the Red Sox are struggling at the plate. Xander Bogaerts (who must produce with all of the attention on J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts) hit a solo homer in the fourth inning to cut the Yankees lead to 3-1. That was the Red Sox’ first run since the third inning of Game 1. When Ian Kinsler doubled in their second run in the seventh, that still left them four runs behind the Yankees. Right now it feels like they are waiting for Martinez to hit a three-run home run even when he’s not the batter and the bases are empty.
8. Then there’s Mookie, struggling in an unfamiliar way. The potential if not probable American League Most Valuable Player is enduring the cruel tricks that a competent opposing pitching staff and the small statistical sample size of a playoff series can play. Betts, still searching for his first career postseason RBI, went 0 for 4 Saturday night and is now 1 for 7 in the series. He’s usually the picture of poise, but he barely resisted Gronk-spiking his bat after popping out on a rare fat pitch from Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka in the third inning. In his next at-bat in the fifth, he got nothing out of a bullet caught at the wall in dead center. Betts punished the Yankees in 17 games during the regular season (.415/.506/.738, 3 homers, 15 RBIs), so it’s not like they have him solved. At least we can say this: He’s due.
9. I’m not drawing any conclusions now, but I do know this. We’re going to find out more about this team in Game 3 than we have in any of the Red Sox’ 109 wins or 55 losses so far this season. They shouldn’t feel bad about where they stand in the series — the Yankees won one here, and it’s not unreasonable to expect the Red Sox to win one there. But they are heading to the Bronx to play in front of their aggressively loud fans, with a frustrating loss fresh in their minds and a starting pitcher (either Rick Porcello or Nathan Eovaldi) who isn’t exactly reminiscent of ’07 Josh Beckett. The decibels will be high. So will the degree of difficulty. But as obvious as their flaws are right now — how can they ever allow Price to pitch in New York again? — this is a talent-rich, record-setting team. All they need to do is play like the team they have been all year. I expect them to do it. And if they don’t, then we must ask if they are who we thought they were, and whether some of this season was a mirage. Not yet, though. They’ve stockpiled at least that much faith through the summer. We’re about to find out if they plan to reward it in the fall.