NEW YORK — It’s never acceptable to get picked off second base by the catcher. It’s a long throw across the diamond and even a mildly interested runner should have time to get back to the bag.
Now, consider the situation Eduardo Nunez was in on Friday night.
The Sox were trailing the Yankees by two runs in the fifth inning, but had two runners on base with two outs. Andrew Benintendi was up with J.D. Martinez on deck.
Yankees starter J.A. Happ was running out of pitches, too. Everything pointed to the Red Sox picking up a run or two.
But Nunez strayed too far off the base and Gary Sanchez came up firing. His throw was a little to the right, but Gleyber Torres had time to catch the ball and drop the tag on Nunez to end the inning.
The Sox did not advance another runner beyond first base and lost the game, 4-1.
It’s hard to say that play directly cost them the game. The Sox had only five hits and Chris Sale gave away a 1-0 lead by allowing three runs in the third inning.
But it’s easy to say that play is the latest example of how the Red Sox are treating this season, which is far too casually.
Only one team in baseball can repeat as World Series champions, something that hasn’t happened since 2000. The Red Sox don’t seem to treasure that opportunity.
The collective sense of purpose the Sox played with last season shows up only occasionally now. They were 8½ games out on April 17, chopped it down to three games on May 12, and now it’s back to 8½ after losing three straight and five of seven.
“As a group, we have to find a way to play better,” Sale said. “I’m not going to sit here and throw anybody under the bus. I have to go out there and pitch better and keep us closer in games.”
Nunez, to his credit, was accountable. He stood at his locker and took every question. He also apologized to Cora in the dugout.
“That was a rookie mistake,” Nunez said.
Cora could have pulled Nunez out of the game, but embarrassing a veteran player only would have made it a bigger deal.
If there’s any lesson to be learned, it’s from the Yankees. They have seven important players on the injured list but have the second-best record in the American League. Manager Aaron Boone is getting the most out of players he never expected to have on the roster.
“Those guys can play the game,” Mookie Betts said “You’ve got to give credit when credit’s due. They’ve got a bunch of ballplayers over there who play the game the right way.”
Meanwhile the Sox tread water with the highest payroll in baseball. They have the same individuals from last season, but not the same team.
“It’s a new year. Different challenges, obviously,” Betts said. “Inconsistency has been tough. Can’t really play this game and be good if you’re inconsistent. We’re definitely that.”
It falls on Cora to change that, with help from Betts and the other core players.
Cora built a team for Puerto Rico that finished second in the World Baseball Classic. He then won a World Series with the Astros as their bench coach before guiding the Red Sox to a historic season.
So what now?
“The same thing I did last year. It’s the same thing. Nothing changes,” Cora said. “The beauty of that group last year was we didn’t listen to the noise. For how good we were, everybody was praising us, we kept our head down and kept working.
“Right now, hopefully they’re not listening to the noise. I’m not. I know on a daily basis we’ve got talent. Keep teaching principles, keep coaching them, and they’re going to be fine. They’ll find ways to start winning games.”
It’s not noise. The Sox are 29-28, and that speaks louder than anything that can be written or said about the team.
Cora often says he doesn’t want to chase wins. It means not putting everything into winning one game if it’s going to wear players out and cost you the next two.
It’s a smart way to play and the Sox showed last year just how well it works.
But starting Saturday, it’s time to chase some wins. The calendar has flipped to June and the season is getting away from them.