NEW YORK — In a move that screamed “panic,” the Red Sox Tuesday gave up on catcher Blake Swihart and recalled Sandy Leon from Pawtucket.
“I told Sandy, ‘Don’t feel like you have to come here to be the savior,’ ’’ manager Alex Cora said before the Sox series opener with the Yankees. “It doesn’t work that way.’’
Reunited with his binkie backstop, struggling Chris Sale returned to the mound and surrendered four runs on seven hits and a walk in five innings of an 8-0 skunking. Leon went hitless in three at-bats with two strikeouts and a throwing error (truly not his fault). Sale is 0-4 with an 8.50 ERA and the Red Sox are 6-12, the franchise’s worst 18-game start since Kevin Kennedy’s warriors went 3-15 in 1996.
“I’ve got to find a way to pitch better,’’ said Sale. “This is flat-out embarrassing to my family, my team, our fans. This is about as bad as it gets. I have to pitch better.
“We keep saying the same things, but you go out there and give up four runs here, five runs here, seven runs there. And not get into the sixth, seventh inning like I should . . . This is as frustrated as I’ve ever been on a baseball field . . . I stink right now. I don’t know what it is.’’
Told that Cora expressed confidence that Sale would be better next time, Sale said, “We better [expletive] hope so.’’
So much for the Sandy Leon Factor.
We were supposed to believe that the Sox sleepwalked through the first three weeks of the season because Swihart caught six games. The Leon Factor indicated that Boston’s vaunted $88 million starting rotation opened the season with a 2-10 record and a 7.18 ERA because Sandy Leon was sent to Pawtucket.
Color me gobsmacked. I’m trying to figure out how Sale managed to be a five-time All-Star with the White Sox without Sandy. For that matter, how did David Price win the 2012 Cy Young Award without Sandy? Rick Porcello? How did he win more than 70 games with the Tigers without Sandy? Please explain.
Come to think of it, how did the 2018 Red Sox go 11-3 in the postseason with Christian Vazquez starting 10 of those games (9-1 record)?
Nobody scapegoats like your Boston Red Sox (hello, Juan Nieves and Chili Davis), and so on Tuesday the world learned that Swihart had been outrighted to make room for the return of Leon, who was batting a robust .120 with Pawtucket.
Do not wait under water for the Sox to admit that they were wrong about anything. Ever. They aren’t likely to admit they misused and abused Swihart starting in 2016 (they are now likely to get zip for an athletic, switch-hitting 27-year-old catcher). They’ll continue to insist that their “plan” to hold the starters back in spring training was a swell idea. They aren’t going to come clean and tell you that the Dustin Pedroia comeback should have included a longer stay in the minors. And on Tuesday they wouldn’t admit that keeping Swihart instead of Leon to start the season was a mistake. No. This sudden switch was just something they decided to do because . . . well, it was time. Oh, they want you to know that this was not a result of complaints from starting pitchers.
Perhaps it’s time for Larry Lucchino’s CEO title to be restored to the Boston masthead so the Sox can blame this hideous start on evil Larry.
Careful to insist that the catching switch was not an indictment of Swihart and Vazquez, Sox baseball boss Dave Dombrowski said, “We wanted to bring Leon up to handle our pitching staff, which he is really good at . . . By no means am I saying we’re putting this on Blake.’’
“We made a decision thinking about now and the rest of the season,’’ reasoned Cora. “We’re very comfortable with Christian and Sandy.’’
The timing of the switch seemed ideal. Sale and the Sox are due to play better and why not bring Leon back on the night Sale was starting in New York against a shell of a Yankees lineup (if George Steinbrenner were alive he would have fired the entire Yankees medical staff by now)? Sale carried a lifetime 1.61 ERA vs. the Yanks into the series opener. He probably would have had a great night with Bob Uecker behind the dish.
Sale cracked 97.5 miles per hour on the gun in the first three innings and buckled several Yankees with his slider.
Welcome back, Sandy!
Things went south in a hurry as Sale labored in the third. The Yankees connected with some fastballs and scored a pair of two-out runs following a leadoff double by Brett Gardner with the help of a walk and hard singles by DJ LeMahieu and Luke Voit.
The Yankees knocked Sale around for two more in the fourth. Clint Frazier homered on a changeup and Mike Tauchman made it 4-0 with a two-out, RBI double.
“Still not very good,’’ said Sale. “Not where I need to be. I need to throw up zeros . . . I know who we are. 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’ll pick it up. What else can we do? Keep grinding. Hopefully, it will turn.’’
The Sox managed only three hits on the night and Sinatra’s “New York, New York’’ was playing by 9:05 p.m.
Through 18 games, the Red Sox starters’ ERA is 7.18. The pre-Yawkey 1931 Red Sox had a 6.96 ERA through 18 games.
Somewhere, late last night, Blake Swihart must have been chuckling.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org