BOSTON -- On a day spent celebrating the endurance and never-quit spirit of this city, the Red Sox did their part, yet again.
They couldn’t come all the way back, like they had Sunday night, and so the Orioles were 7-6 victors to earn a split of a four-game series that finished Monday. But after a clunker of a start from Clay Buchholz put the home team in a six-run hole early, that the Sox had the winning run at the plate in each of the final three innings, and at second base when the final out was recorded, it says something about this team that the game wound up within a hit of their grasp.
It says that the fierce and feisty determination given so much credit for the party that played out at Fenway Park last October remains an intrinsic trait of this team. Like those athletes jogging, walking and gutting past the Green Monster as part of the 118th Boston Marathon, this team doesn’t give up.
“Most guys would throw in the towel. Most teams would throw in the towel,” catcher David Ross said of the attitude in the dugout, particularly when down half a dozen. “That’s not in the character of our team.”
Now 20 games into its season, the Sox are 9-11. They’ve yet to win three consecutive contests. They’re 4-6 at home. They’re 2 1/2 games beYankees Yankees team that comes to Fenway tonight for a three-game series — but from a character perspective the 2014 team doesn’t appear appreciably different than the club of 2013, which was 13-7 and a game up in the American League East at this same juncture.
The differences, rather, are evident elsewhere. “That’s the kind of team, and that’s the mentality that we have,” Ross said, “but we can’t not hit the cutoff man. We have to turn double plays when they’re presented. We (need) good baserunning. Just the little things that show up in a game like today, when those things rear their ugly head.”Buchholz bears a majority of the blame for Monday, when he allowed six runs over 2 1/3 innings before being yanked. But when he exited, there was still almost seven full innings to play, and as hard as the Sox might’ve tried, they sabotaged that effort when their fundamentals failed in a few key spots.
The earliest came during Baltimore’s six-run rally, when Jackie Bradley Jr. missed the cutoff when firing to the plate, allowing Nelson Cruz to move to third and subsequently score on a ground out. Though the more damaging errors were in the eighth — just after Ross’ homer had pulled the Sox within two.
In the top of the inning, the Sox failed to convert a tailor-made double-play ball, with Dustin Pedroia giving Xander Bogaerts a less-than-ideal feed, and the shortstop then pulling Mike Napoli off the bag with his throw to first base. Two batters later, Steve Clevenger, scored on a single that extended the Orioles’ lead back to three.
Napoli got that run back with a homer in the bottom of the inning, then Bogaerts and Daniel Nava singled, so the Sox had two on with one out — but on the pitch that struck out pinch-hitter Jonathan Herrera, somebody missed a sign. Nava took off from first. Bogaerts held between second and third. And with nowhere to go, that’s where he was tagged out.
“A miscommunication,” Bogaerts said. “I guess I saw something I didn’t have to see. It shouldn’t have been an out right there. We would’ve had two outs, first and second.”
That still might not have been good enough. The Sox have struggled to hit with runners in scoring position, and did again Monday, finishing 2-for-10 when Napoli and Mike Carp each grounded out after David Ortiz was intentionally walked to load the bases in the ninth.
There’s no guarantee the Sox would’ve seized that opportunity. But they sure would’ve given it their best shot.
Twenty games in, that much we know. These Red Sox are resilient. They’re built of high character. They endure and don’t quit. The effort is there, every night, every day — heck, after Monday, every morning.
Now they’ve just got to show they’re good enough to make the most of it.
Dave D’Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.