OAKLAND, Calif. — Xander Bogaerts hesitated briefly as he rounded second base in the ninth inning on Tuesday night, remembering all too well what a powerful right arm Oakland Athletics center fielder Ramon Laureano has.
It was Laureano who threw Bogaerts out at the plate on Monday night. But Bogaerts took another chance, believing it was what the Red Sox needed to inject some life into their season.
Instead, a one-hop throw arrived on time, Bogaerts was out, and the Red Sox were 1-0 losers at Oakland Coliseum.
The Alex Cora Era has arrived at its first real challenge. After a joyride 2018 season that ended with a World Series championship, the Red Sox are tied for the worst record in baseball at 1-5 and already four games out of first place.
They were never more than two games out all of last season and that was for 48 hours in June.
“Right now nothing’s going our way,” Cora said.
On a night where Chris Sale compensated for a worrisome lack of fastball velocity with dozens of off-speed and breaking pitches over six one-run innings, the Sox were unable to back him and dropped their fourth game in a row.
Sale (0-2), Brandon Workman, and Ryan Brasier held the Athletics to three hits. But the Sox never came close to scoring against Mike Fiers (2-1) and a dominant Oakland bullpen.
The Sox have been shut out in consecutive games for the first time since July 17-18, 2015, on the road against the Los Angeles Angels.
There are still five games left on this road trip.
“Honestly, after tonight, I feel better,” Cora said. “I feel better because it was a game. 1-0, we had a chance. We competed. … I know what the record is, but honestly I can go home and get some sleep.”
Sale needed 26 pitches to get through the first inning, including one high fastball that Matt Chapman drove over the fence in left field for his third home run.
Sale’s fastball topped out at 91 miles per hour in the first inning with an average of 88.9. He then dialed back on his use of the pitch, throwing only 19 more over the next five innings.
Relying on his slider and changeup, Sale did not allow another run and let up only two more hits, both singles.
For the first time in his career, Sale pitched four or more innings and had only one strikeout. The 29 fastballs he threw averaged 89.3 miles per hour, the lowest velocity for a game in his career.
The Sox believe Sale can avoid his usual second-half regression by incrementally building velocity and perhaps that will prove true. But Tuesday it was much different look for a pitcher known for his sizzle.
“I relied on my defense a lot. I had to kind of revert over to my off-speed pitches. It seemed like they were kind of waiting on a fastball,” Sale said.
Sale said it was a function of what catcher Christian Vazquez called.
“That’s the evolution of the game. Even if I threw two or three fastballs in an inning, they were ready for it,” he said. “You see how the game goes, see the at-bats and adjust accordingly.”
Instead of meeting power with power, his method for nine seasons and nearly 1,800 strikeouts, Sale was a craftsman.
“The name of the game isn’t velocity. It’s giving your team a chance to win,” he said.
Cora professed no concern.
“Whatever he had, he did a good job of keeping them off-balance,” the manager said. “We’re trying to get outs and innings. We got six from him; they only scored one. We had a chance to win.”
Bogaerts nearly tied the game when he drove a Blake Treinen slider to right center field in the ninth. The ball hit the fence at the 388-foot mark. A foot more to the left and it would have been a home run.
Instead, it was an out at third as Chapman blocked the bag with his foot and dropped the tag down. Laureano, who has 11 assists in 55 career games, is not one to challenge.
“I’m like, ‘There’s no way he’ll do that again,’” Bogaerts said. “I didn’t see the replay. But once I dove into third, I felt Chapman hit me before I got to the bag. I knew I was out. How can he do that two nights in a row? The next time I won’t run.”
Mitch Moreland drew a walk to extend the game. After pinch runner Eduardo Nunez stole second, Brock Holt struck out swinging.
Cora did not question the decision.
“It took a five-star play to get him out at third,” he said. “The kid [Laureano], he’s a game-changer.”
The Sox missed their other chances, too.
Mookie Betts doubled with two outs in the third before Andrew Benintendi grounded out.
Rafael Devers led off the fourth inning with a single and remained there when Martinez and Bogaerts were retired on fly balls. Devers moved to third when Moreland singled, but Holt grounded out sharply to first base.
Benintendi reached on an infield single to open the sixth inning and stole second. But Devers popped out, Martinez grounded out, and Bogaerts struck out swinging at a low curveball to end a six-pitch at-bat.
Facing lefthander Mike Buchter, Vazquez doubled with two outs in the seventh inning and stole third. But Jackie Bradley Jr. struck out on a half-swing at a fastball. He then slammed his bat to the grass in anger.