At what point, precisely, are we allowed to wonder whether these Red Sox are OK?
We have made the excuses. The Sox have a World Series hangover. They had a rugged schedule the first 11 days. They were due for some reality, and Tuesday the Sox told us that Chris Sale had no fastball in Oakland because he was sick. The struggling Sox cannot possibly fall out of contention because everybody in the American League (besides the Astros and Yankees) stinks.
Pay no attention to this early slump, the Sox are going to be OK.
But Tuesday’s home opener reopened the vault of suspicion and has us seriously wondering what is going on with the Local Nine. The Red Sox got their 2018 championship rings, celebrated amid an amazing/gaudy assemblage of hardware (10 championship trophies) and star power (Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and Rob Gronkowski in the same space?), then took the field and produced yet another stinkbomb, this one a 7-5 loss to the tanking Toronto Blue Jays.
The defending world champs are 3-9, in last place, six games behind the Tampa Bay Rays.
And the annoying Sox are still clinging to 2018 like a flock of Springsteen wannabes reciting boring stories of Glory Days.
“Now we got our rings and now we got to get back to playing good baseball,’’ acknowledged Sox manager Alex Cora.
Tuesday was not about good baseball. It was a slopfest, replete with another Sale stinker (four innings, seven hits, five earned runs) and a couple of passed balls. The sleepy Sox allowed a runner to steal home in a three-run fourth and were booed with gusto when they came off the field, trailing, 5-2.
The Sox are still in Kevin Bacon/Animal House “All is well!” mode as Sale sinks in the East. Since signing a five-year, $145 million contract extension, Sale is 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA. He induces almost zero swings and misses with his four-seam fastball. And yet the Sox insist that he is not hurt and that this is all part of a plan to save bullets for October.
“He wasn’t able to put away hitters,’’ Cora conceded. “He didn’t have too many swings and misses. He paid the price.’’
“Today wasn’t a team funk,’’ confessed Sale. “Today was on me.’’
That’s the truth.
Cora chose Tuesday’s pregame news conference to reveal that Sale was under the weather when he had the slowest fastball of his career in the 1-0 loss at Oakland last week. It was interesting timing. Also, weak.
After that game in Oakland, Cora and Sale were both asked if the pitcher was physically OK, and both answered in the affirmative. Did two days of listening to Boston sports talk radio inspire the Sox to cough up new/old information?
This is going to be an issue until Sale shows us a semblance of his old self.
Otherwise, it was a beautiful day at Fenway. Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra triggered pregame festivities at 1:10 p.m. when World Series banners from past seasons were unfurled on the Green Monster.
Then came a parade of past heroes carrying old World Series trophies and 2018 championship rings. Coming out from the cornfield behind the wall, Martinez, Mike Lowell, and Ortiz carried trophies from 2004, 2007, and 2013. Ramirez, Curt Schilling, and Tim Wakefield were among the ring bearers. John Henry and Tom Werner greeted the old-time heroes at second base.
Cora was first to come out of the first base dugout for his ring, and the manager moved down a handshake line that included Henry, Werner, Linda Henry, Sam Kennedy, Dave Dombrowski, and baseball commissioner Rob Manfred.
Oddly, the ring recipients were not announced to the crowd. Fans had to figure it out. David Price got a rousing ovation when he came out of the dugout, and Price doffed his cap to the crowd. J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts were the final two players to emerge, and both were cheered madly.
After the last of the rings had been gifted, the Sox legends retreated to the dugout and 2018 team members walked toward center field for the raising of the banner. Cora did the rope-tugging honors (there were some problems with the strings — a metaphor for the 2019 season perhaps) and the crowd roared when a small breeze extended the championship banner and revealed its historic message.
Then came the introductions of the starting lineups; Dustin Pedroia (back on the roster, batting seventh) and Sale got the biggest ovations.
Finally, we had more than 20 of the Super Bowl champion Patriots walking in from left field, led by Gronkowski. They brought all six Lombardis. Gronk, Julian Edelman, and Stephon Gilmore tossed the ceremonial first pitches. There were high-powered hugs and hardware peppering the space in front of the first-base dugout.
After the ceremony, in a gesture of infinite grace, John Henry came to the press box and met with ESPN baseball communications strategist Ben Cafardo, son of longtime Globe scribe Nick Cafardo, who died suddenly in February at spring training.
Then it was time for baseball. And it was not good baseball, as 36,179 shivered in low 40s temperatures.
Sale hit 94 on the gun in the second inning, but was sloppy in the third and fourth.
Pedroia’s comeback day (1 for 4) was not good. He grounded into a double play in the second, stranded runners on first and third in the fourth, and left two more aboard when he flied out in the sixth. He was stranded after his leadoff single in the ninth.
In the losers’ clubhouse, a reporter asked Sale if he has ever felt this lost on the mound.
“Never in my life,’’ said the erstwhile ace.