A state of panic has been declared across Red Sox Nation.
This is getting ridiculous.
The Red Sox have outscored their opponents, 24-23 over the last 5 games, but are only 1-4 in that time. 3 one-run losses, a 5 run loss, and a 9 run win.
2 leads blown in the 8th inning.
The Red Sox face hot pitchers in the last 5 games. Timing is bad. The good news is that all 5 of their starters have now pitched well in their last starts, but a combination of facing good opposing pitchers, and 2 bullpen meltdowns has led to 4 losses in 5 games.
The worst news is that Francona is still stubbornly trying to give Gagne "complete innings" to build his confidence. Just like with Matsusaka about 10 days ago in Baltimore, Francona refused to lift Gagne when it was obvious he’d lost control.
With 2 out and nobody on, in the 8th, he walked a batter and gave up a single. Then he got ahead of Stairs 0-2 on 2 fastballs in the zone which Stairs fouled off. Instead of coming back with his best pitch, a changeup, he went fastball high. Now I suppose Varitek is partly to blame here, as he calls the pitches. The problem was that Gagne missed SO high that Stairs wasn’t tempted to swing. At that point, I expected Varitek to go to the changeup, but the next 2 pitches were fastballs, high. Finally Gagne threw the changeup on 3-2, but it was way inside and Stairs just jumped out of the way and drew the walk.
At this point, with 4 straight far-out-of-the-zone pitches, Francona has to lift Gagne and put in Papelbon. Forget Gagne’s confidence, just win the game! In fact, if I were Gagne, I would have less confidence to throw aggressively if I knew my manager weren’t going to pull me when I needed help. He might be hurting Gagne’s confidence to be aggressive by not replacing him with Papelbon when needed.
Papelbon had had 4 days of rest and could easily have gone 4 outs. Get him in there. Bases loaded, 2 out. One run lead. Gagne walks in the tying run. Ouch!
What does Francona do? Sits on his butt. Even then! Come on! 3 walks! Walking in the tying run! What more evidence do you need! In fact, dugout shots showed him leaning forward and back in his seat, fidgeting as if he knew he’d be in the hotseat, and as if he didn’t have confidence in Gagne, but was hoping Gagne would pitch his way out of it. As it was, Gagne did get out of the inning before Francona could lift him for giving Toronto the lead, but only because of a perfect relay home from Drew in right field. Gagne went 3-2, and had to come in with a fastball or risk giving up the tying run. The hitter teed off on it and lined a rope just over Drew’s glove. Drew was going all out to catch that one! Fortunately, Drew got the carom off the wall quickly, fired a strike to the cutoff (Pedroia?), who fired a strike to Varitek, and they got the 3rd runner out at the plate (despite being off with the pitch because of the 3-2 count with 2 outs).
Lugo hit a homer in the 9th to get it back to 1, but that was it.
Francona will deserve a lot of heat for this loss.
Read my blog postings about the trade to get Gagne, and you’ll see that I’ve been against this trade from the start. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The bullpen was fine. Develop Delcarmen if you need more setup help. Don’t bring a closer into a setup situation. Don’t trade away a young, guaranteed quality starting pitcher and a top outfield prospect for someone who won’t like the role he’ll be asked to fill and will probably leave for another team at the end of the season. How much would Murphy and Gabbard be helping now? Quite a lot.
Gagne has now blown 4 wins for the Red Sox. The lead would be 6.5 games if the Sox hadn’t made that trade. The magic number would be 5.
Thank you for letting me vent to you all. That was therapeutic.
It was a frustrating loss in other ways. The Sox had 9 hits to Toronto’s 5, but the hits were spread out and some double plays helped. The Sox played clean defense, and Toronto made an error. But all those unnecessary 8th inning walks lost the game. A waste of an otherwise well-played game.
We’ll learn a lot about this team by how they bounce back. They’ve been good at bouncing back over the years. Now the pressures on. They respect their manager, and they know he’ll be under a lot of fire. They’ll probably rally around him and try to pick him up by playing with intensity from the first inning Wednesday. Buchholz will be pitching. His first start since the no-hitter. He might be rusty, but he’s still good.
Manny is close to being back. Crisp is close to being back. If they get those guys back, look for an additional boost, and the needed "break" from the sense of doom and depression that must be setting in.
I expect that after 3 days of offensive frustration, the Red Sox hitters will rally no matter how good Toronto’s starter does. If Manny plays, he might do well, considering that he has hit some of his longest home runs ever in SkyDome in Toronto.
Wednesday’s game is likely to be one of those 10-run margins of victory. Let’s hope that it’s not followed up by another 3 one-run losses. We’ve got Papelbon, so we should be winning those one-run games more than losing them!