NEW YORK — The Red Sox returned to Yankee Stadium on Tuesday for the first time since Oct. 9. That was the night they clinched their playoff series against the Yankees and soaked the visitors’ clubhouse in champagne.
It wasn’t that long ago, but it sure seems like ancient history now.
The demise of the World Series champions continued with an 8-0 loss against the Yankees.
The Red Sox are 6-12, their worst 18-game start since the 1996 team was 3-15. The Sox are already 7½ games out of first place, the largest deficit in the majors, and have been outscored by 40 runs.
It’s the worst start for a defending champion since the 1998 Florida Marlins were 5-13. That Marlins team was overmatched, having traded away its best players at the order of parsimonious owner Wayne Huizenga. These Red Sox have the highest payroll in the game and no such excuses.
A sense of resignation is starting to settle in.
“Nobody wants to lose, but it’s just one of those things that’s part of it,” Mookie Betts said. “Got to live with the good and the bad.”
The Sox changed their mix before the game, replacing Blake Swihart with Sandy Leon. The idea was to give Chris Sale his personal catcher back so he could shine against the injury-ravaged Yankees.
It worked for two innings, Sale setting down six hitters in order on 22 pitches as his fastball flashed 97 miles per hour and his slider showed previously unseen bite.
The lefthander allowed two runs on six hits in the two innings that followed, the Yankees cracking a series of hard-hit balls, including a home run from Clint Frazier and a run-scoring double by Mike Tauchman.
Sale (0-4) allowed four runs over five innings. That actually dropped his earned run average to 8.50.
Sale was not interested in analyzing the particulars of his season.
“I’ve got to find a way to pitch better,” he said. “This is flat-out embarrassing for my family, for my team, for our fans. This is about as bad as it gets. I have to pitch better.
“I keep saying the same thing. I go out there and give four runs here, five runs here, seven runs there. I’m not getting to the sixth, seventh inning like I should. That’s who I am. I’m supposed to pitch to the sixth, seventh, eighth inning.”
Manager Alex Cora, searching for hopeful signs like they’re Easter eggs in tall grass, predicted “the real Chris Sale” would show up in his next start based on the quality of his pitches against the Yankees.
“You better [expletive] hope so,” Sale said.
James Paxton, who was 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA, retired the first nine Sox in a row. The lefthander went eight innings and allowed two hits with one walk and 12 strikeouts.
The closest the Sox came to scoring was in the fourth inning when Betts drew a walk and Xander Bogaerts hit a fastball off the top of the wall in right that bounced back onto the field.
“Like an inch away,” Bogaerts said.
With runners on second and third and the Sox down, 2-0, righthanded hitters J.D. Martinez and Steve Pearce popped to right field before Mitch Moreland struck out.
“Xander’s ball doesn’t go out by inches but it’s still a good situation for us,” Cora said. “Second and third and we weren’t able to score. From there, they add on.”
Righthander Erasmo Ramirez, who was called up from Triple A Pawtucket before the game, replaced Sale for the sixth inning.
The 28-year-old journeyman was immediately bad. Gio Urshela doubled and Brett Gardner drew a walk. The Yankees then had Austin Romine bunt the runners along.
Manager Aaron Boone should be fined by his team’s kangaroo court for playing for one run against a Red Sox pitcher.
Ramirez left a cutter over the plate and Tauchman drilled it into the second deck in right field for his first major league home run.
Gleyber Torres homered in the seventh inning off Ramirez.
The game was the first time the Red Sox and Yankees had losing records when playing each other at least 15 games into the season since 1992.
The second game of the two-game series will be Wednesday night with Nathan Eovaldi facing J.A. Happ.
“I know who we are, the guys we’ve got in this group,” Sale said. “We’re resilient. We’re going to keep fighting. We’re not going to hang our heads. Obviously, we know where we’re at; we know we need to pick it up.
“We’ve got to keep grinding . . . what else can we do?”