Their new World Series rings in hand, the Red Sox players joined manager Alex Cora in center field before Tuesday afternoon’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays to raise the 2018 World Series banner.
The first few tugs on the rope were fruitless, the tangled flag refusing to budge. The Sox tried again and it finally went up the flagpole.
Will they be able to say the same about their season?
The Sox continued what is inarguably shoddy play with a 7-5 loss against the Blue Jays.
Fenway Park was half full by the seventh inning, a joyous sellout crowd of 36,179 worn down by both a wintry day and watching the home team toss away an early lead with a series of mistakes.
Reigning American League Most Valuable Player Mookie Betts represented one last hope, arriving at the plate with two runners on and two outs in the ninth. But he struck out flailing at a low slider from Ken Giles to end the game.
At 3-9, the Red Sox are already six games out of first place.
Since 1994, the start of baseball’s wild-card era, only three of the 57 teams that started 3-9 or worse went on to make the playoffs. The last were the 2007 Philadelphia Phillies, who went from 3-10 to winning the National League East on the final day of the season.
These Red Sox, who return the bulk of a 108-win team, look incapable of that right now.
“We have to play better. I’ve been saying it all along,” Cora said. “Just play better — better defense, better offense, pitch better.”
The rebuilding Blue Jays arrived having scored six runs in a four-game losing streak. But they bounced back from a 2-0 deficit against Chris Sale.
Sale retired the first seven batters he faced, then allowed five runs on seven hits. He is 0-3 with a 9.00 earned run average in three starts since being signed to a five-year, $145 million contract extension.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever pitched like this in my life,” Sale said.
Singles by Alen Hanson, Billy McKinney, and Freddy Galvis produced a run in the third inning. McKinney then scored on a sacrifice fly by Teoscar Hernandez.
Randal Grichuk, Danny Jansen, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. led off with singles to give Toronto a 3-2 lead in the fourth inning.
With two outs, Sale could not limit the damage. Jansen scored on a passed ball, then Gurriel stole home, Sale firing the ball past catcher Christian Vazquez as the runner raced home.
That drew the first boos of the season.
“If he throws a strike, [Gurriel] is out by a lot,” Cora said. “The kid took a gamble and [Sale] rushed the pitch and yanked it.”
Sale averaged 91.8 miles per hour with his four-seam fastball, with a peak of 94.7 on a raw day. But six of eight Toronto batters had hits at one point.
That only one of those hits was particularly well struck is incidental to the fact that Sale averaged 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings last season and is at 5.5 this season.
As Cora noted, he can’t put hitters away.
“We’ve got to win that game,” Sale said. “This is very easy to just throw on top of the pile and say we’re not playing good. This wasn’t us not playing good; this was me sucking today.
“That’s frustrating because today was the day we were going to turn it around. We’re back home, ceremony, in front of our home fans, playing our first home game. Everyone did what they had to do except for me.”
Not entirely. The Red Sox bullpen, which had been an unexpected bright spot, also faltered.
Heath Hembree walked Hernandez with two outs in the seventh. Brandon Workman then walked Brandon Drury before Grichuk had an RBI single.
Matt Barnes, who retired 13 of the 14 batters he faced in three prior appearances, hit McKinney with a pitch to start the ninth, then threw a wild pitch before Galvis drove in a run with a double.
The Sox were responsible for three stolen bases, two passed balls, a wild pitch, and a hit batter over the course of the game.
“They took advantage of us,” Cora said.
Matt Shoemaker (3-0) went 5⅔ innings for the victory. He allowed home runs by Mitch Moreland and Betts. Two other runs were unearned.
Two-out doubles by J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts drew the Sox within a run in the eighth inning before Rafael Devers grounded out.
Dustin Pedroia was 1 for 4 in his return from the injured list. His single off Giles in the ninth put the tying run at the plate. Jackie Bradley Jr. then drew a walk.
With the remaining fans standing, pinch hitter Blake Swihart popped out to center field, as did Andrew Benintendi. Betts had a chance and missed it.
The same players, manager, and coaching staff were 10-2 at this point last season.
“It’s somewhat surprising. But then again, it’s baseball,” Betts said. “They’re professionals, too. We can’t expect them to roll over and play dead. They’re coming to play and we haven’t.”