The clouds had parted. The skies had cleared.
The Red Sox, down 4-1 early to the rebuilding Blue Jays, had taken flight in a three-run fifth inning to tie the game. Andrew Cashner, making his Red Sox debut, took the mound for the sixth, determined to validate the faith that his new team showed by trading for him over the weekend.
It took just one pitch for that promise to vanish.
Cashner’s hanging breaking ball to Justin Smoak was launched to right field for a homer. Once again, the Red Sox trailed, 5-4.
“Whatever,” thought Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “We’ll turn the page.”
Yet the ability to turn pages, in so many ways, has eluded the Red Sox all year. And Tuesday night, the sixth inning went from bad to worse, the sense of a possible comeback quickly giving way to a misstep on a banana peel.
A single to the next batter ended Cashner’s night. Reliever Josh Taylor, after recording an out, had Teoscar Hernandez picked off first, but threw the ball away and allowed the Blue Jays baserunner to reach third. Two batters later, a wild pitch allowed him to score — a 6-4 deficit representing a gut punch in what eventually became a 10-4 Red Sox loss.
“They have to earn it. We just gave it to them,” said Cora. “It’s frustrating . . . We got back into the game and that happens. The way it happened, that second run, that’s kind of like, ‘Oof. That’s a tough one.’ ”
Such weary reflections are becoming commonplace for a Red Sox team that, in Cora’s words, has “been consistent at being inconsistent.” In word and (roster) deed, the team continues to stress the urgency of each game, the sense that there is no time to wait.
The recent moves to add Cashner, designate Eduardo Nunez for assignment, and option Ryan Brasier and Hector Velazquez all suggest that faith in track records or past contributions has given way to a need to win now. Yet the need remained unaddressed Tuesday.
The Red Sox took a 1-0 advantage in the first on Xander Bogaerts’s solo homer (his 21st long ball). The shot onto Lansdowne Street put the shortstop in the company of Ted Williams as the only Red Sox players ever with a hit, run, and RBI in eight straight games.
But Cashner returned the early tally with interest in the next half-frame.
The righthander, who’d possessed what he described as career-best command of a four-pitch mix with the Orioles in 2019, lacked the sharpness that typified his final five starts in Baltimore – a stretch in which he’d pitched at least six innings while allowing no more than five hits or one walk in any outing.
He struggled all game to hit his spots, his changeup going from a weapon in Baltimore to vulnerability in his Boston debut, and the Blue Jays capitalized.
“I had a long layoff so I felt like I was more rusty than anything,” said Cashner, who hadn’t pitched since July 6. “I don’t think I was very sharp, didn’t really command my offspeed very well, didn’t really do a lot of things very well.”
With two on and one out in the second, Cashner hung a changeup to Teoscar Hernandez. As has often been the case in Boston, Hernandez’s eyes widened at the sight of the offering, which he drilled 441 feet to left-center for a 3-1 Blue Jays lead. The homer was the seventh for Hernandez at Fenway, easily his most at any park as a visitor.
One inning later, a leadoff walk and hit batter helped set the stage for a Justin Smoak RBI single that increased the Toronto lead to 4-1.
But the combination of an explosive Red Sox offense and an undistinguished Blue Jays pitching staff rendered the lead transient, as the Red Sox rallied for three runs with two outs in the fifth inning.
Five straight batters reached after Toronto starter Jacob Waguespack retired the first two batters of the inning, punctuated by a two-run single by Mookie Betts and a game-tying single by Bogaerts.
Yet that momentum was quickly reversed. Cashner allowed Smoak’s homer and then exited after a Freddy Galvis single. When Taylor allowed the inherited runner to score, Cashner concluded his Red Sox debut having allowed six runs (five earned — matching his total from his prior five starts combined) on eight hits and two walks.
In both the sixth and seventh innings, the Red Sox put the tying runs on base with one out. But both times, the rallies fizzled. In the sixth, after the Red Sox put runners on the corner, Michael Chavis fanned against righty Justin Shafer and pinch-hitter Sam Travis did the same against lefty Tim Mayza.
The following inning, with runners on first and second and one out, J.D. Martinez lined to center and Andrew Benintendi popped to short, part of a 2-for-9 Red Sox night with runners in scoring position.
The Blue Jays blew open the game in the ninth with four runs against Heath Hembree and Ryan Weber. Hembree’s outing – in which the righthander allowed three runs on three hits without retiring a batter, with a fastball that only averaged 91.8 miles per hour — was particularly alarming.
“His velocity is down and also the location is not where usually it is,” said Cora.
The layering of renewed health concerns about one of the team’s most effective relievers for a staff that possesses a 4.64 ERA (17th in the big leagues) added another cloud to the night for a team that can’t spare any time in finding its footing.
“You can’t go on a roll if you win one, lose one, win one, lose one. I think we all are aware of that,” said Bogaerts. “But it seems to not [have] happened as of yet.”