In the moments when it has seemed as if the Sox had finally put themselves in position to find the stride they’d been seeking all season, forward progress has been fleeting.
They came off a 5-1 road trip through Baltimore and Minnesota last week looking to carry confidence back with them to Fenway Park.
Instead, they dropped two of three games to a Toronto Blue Jays team currently sitting next to last in the AL East and 20½ games out of first place. The Red Sox’ 6-1 loss in the series finale on Sunday left them with the same questions they’ve been facing all season.
“As I was saying in Minnesota, we still have to get better,” Cora said. “I know everybody was excited about that, but as a team, there’s a lot of things that we need to keep improving. And when you look at this weekend it showed.”
The Sox salvaged an extra-innings win on Friday by rallying, their 23rd come-from-behind victory of the season. But in back-to-back losses, they dealt with the same inconsistency that has troubled them throughout the year.
“We stole one on Friday, we had a lead on Saturday and they stole the game and today we didn’t show up,” Cora said. “It’s disappointing. We expect better things out of the group and I think today all around it wasn’t a good game.”
The Sox cobbled together just seven hits.
Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman — who’s never been much for suppressing emotions — cruised over six shutout innings. He gave up five hits and one walk and racked up six strikeouts.
When he blazed a 92-mile-per-hour cutter by Eduardo Nunez in the sixth inning, he froze for a second and let out a roar from the mound.
There was nothing Nunez could do except fling his bat in disgust as he walked back to the dugout. Nunez’s frustration spoke volumes for the state of the Red Sox.
“Stroman’s good,” said Brock Holt, who left the game after the third inning with left hamstring tightness. “He throws pretty much everything, both sides of the plate and today he had his stuff working. So tip your cap to him. He had a good game.”
The Jays offense gave him all the runs he needed early on. Brandon Drury went 1 for 3 with an RBI single in the second. Cavan Biggio went 1 for 4 with a run-scoring double in the third.
Red Sox starter Rick Porcello gave up five runs on eight hits and four walks with just two strikeouts as he fell to 5-7. Day games have haunted him this season. He’s gone 2-4 with an 8.31 ERA.
He was able to keep the Sox in striking distance until the sixth inning unraveled on him for three runs. It started when he walked Biggio to lead off the inning and then gave up a ground-rule double to Freddy Galvis over the short fence in the right-field corner, sending Biggio to third.
With Randal Grichuk at the plate, Porcello misinterpreted hand signals from catcher Christian Vazquez. He thought time was called, but it wasn’t. So when he stepped off the mound with the wrong foot, home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi called him for a balk that allowed Biggio to score.
“It was entirely my fault,” Porcello said. “I saw hands go up and kind of just stepped off the mound with the wrong foot. I thought time was out, but time hadn’t been given. I just kind of saw Vazky’s hands go up and we didn’t have time yet. So it was another inexcusable error on my part letting a run get across.”
At that point, with the Sox offense struggling, Porcello knew he had essentially put them out of reach.
“Definitely had a chance,” Porcello said. “The game was relatively under control going into the sixth inning. I’ve got to be better. I walked two guys, big double to Galvis that put ourselves in a tough hole especially when Stroman was throwing the ball so well and runs and hits were coming so hard to come by.
“You can’t give up extra tack-on runs and that inning ended up blowing up. It wasn’t just one or two, they ended up putting up three. So I’ve got to be better. That’s the bottom line.”
The Jays added another run in the eighth when Eric Sogard hit a homer to right field, his eighth of the season.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox offense went 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position and left eight runners on base. Mookie Betts went 2 for 4, Andrew Benintendi 1 for 3. Vazquez went 1 for 4. Their only run of the day came in the ninth when Nunez led off the inning with a double and scored on a throwing error by reliever Joe Biagini.
Instead of gaining ground, the Sox are still eight games behind the Yankees in the division, staring down the same questions they’ve dealt with all year.
“I’m not saying that we didn’t show up because we had runners, but it seems like they were just better than us,” Cora said. “That’s the bottom line. They made pitches, they made plays, they put together good at-bats and we were the opposite. That’s what I mean. Effort-wise, we always show up, it’s just kind of the game all-around, they were better than us tonight.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.