BOSTON — The Red Sox lost on Wednesday for the eighth time in nine games, falling one run shy against Chicago lefty Chris Sale 4-3. That wasn’t really the point.
For Boston, Wednesday was a pivot point. If one were to be blunt, it was the first game in an extended 2015 preseason. The afternoon designation for assignment of catcher A.J. Pierzynski, which led to the promotion of 23-year-old catcher Christian Vazquez, signaled the end of Boston’s title defense. The 2014 season is, for all intents and purposes, over.
With the focus shifted to 2015, the significance of each game similarly changes. The result no longer matters as much as the process does. Sure, that’s far from ideal, but hey, seasons like this are what make 2013 so exceptional.
Wednesday was the first of 72 games to evaluate just what the Red Sox have and what else they’ll soon need. That’s why rookies comprised a majority of the starting nine, with Vazquez joining Brock Holt, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Mookie Betts. You can throw starter Rubby De La Rosa in there as a near-rookie, as well. This is what the rest of the season is liable to look like.
In that regard, Wednesday was a greater success than you could tell by looking at the line score on the Green Monster. In yet another home loss, Boston would have to hang its hat on the little things its lineup did against Sale — if not an All-Star, then as much of an All-Star snub as there exists these days.
Vazquez at the very least made solid contact twice, flying out to deep right and lining to short. Making your major-league debut as a defensive-minded catcher against Sale is a bit like swigging vodka for your first drink. Man, it’ll burn, but everything after will be better by comparison.
Betts, complimented routinely over his first week in the majors for his ability to manage his at-bats, produced Boston’s best off the lanky Chicago lefty. After striking out on seven pitches his first time up, Betts took everything Sale had his second time up before ripping the 11th pitch of the rendezvous off the Monster for a double.
His final at-bat against Sale was his most electrifying, as he beat out a ground ball to deep short by a step, then alertly raced to a second base left uncovered by the White Sox defense. It was ruled an infield double. It helped end Sale’s night and sparked a three-run rally off reliever Jake Petricka. Mike Carp, pinch-hitting for Bogaerts, grounded out with two in scoring position to end the inning.
Bradley provided the defensive highlight of the evening, the week, the month and probably the season with an eye-popping diving catch in right-center of Tyler Flowers’ second-inning fly ball. It was the finest play yet by a center fielder who makes fine plays on the daily.
A 1-8 homestand has afforded little room for optimism, but Bradley’s defense continues toward the transcendent while his offense has started to come around.
And so, on another night where a lineup starring five rookies failed to produce a run, Boston could hang its hat on little things. Jackie Bradley, Jr. made yet another eye-popping defensive play — a diving catch in right-center field that may have been his finest highlight yet.
On the mound, De La Rosa was fairly unremarkable. He allowed a pair of home runs to center field — one on a first-inning changeup to Jose Abreu, the other on a second-inning fastball to Conor Gillaspie. Chicago nicked him for a third run when Mike Napoli was victimized by a bad hop. De La Rosa struck out three and didn’t walk a man.
Unlike in his last full minor-league start, De La Rosa returned to relying more on his fastball, throwing it nearly 65 percent of the time.
Sale allowed a run on four hits in 7 2/3 innings, striking out six.
Alexei Ramirez’s two-run homer off Clay Buchholz in the sixth inning proved too difficult to overcome, and the White Sox took another one-run decision, 3-2, at U.S. Cellular Field on Wednesday night. Boston is staring at Chris Sale and the very real possibility of a three-game sweep directly in the face on Thursday. The Red Sox are already 1-5 on this road trip, and that’s on the heels of a 2-4 homestand.
Every good team experiences an ugly road series like this, in which nothing big goes right and all the little things seem to go wrong. But good teams earn that designation by providing themselves with leeway for that occasional series, and the 2014 Red Sox have yet to do any such thing.
Seventeen days into the season, the Red Sox have already sliced their margin of error to a fillet. A better homestand, and the Red Sox could have better afforded to play fast and loose on the south side; they did, after all, lose two of three here last May.
A better offense, and the Red Sox could get past the first-inning defensive miscues that helped the White Sox promptly negate Boston’s first first-inning run of the season. Handed a 1-0 lead, Buchholz hit Adam Eaton to lead off the game. Daniel Nava couldn’t grasp a pickoff attempt, allowing Eaton to move to second. Ryan Roberts bounced a two-out throw to Nava, allowing Eaton to score in a macabre replay of Tuesday’s ninth inning.
A better defense, and Buchholz wouldn’t have thrown 31 pitches in the opening frame — a full 15 of which came after Roberts’ error. He wouldn’t have been up over the 100-pitch mark in the sixth, then, when he left a 2-1 fastball to the hottest hitter in the American League up over the inner half. Ramirez, who entered the night with a hit in every game this season and a .415 average more than 50 points better than the league’s next-best, deposited that mistake in the Chicago bullpen in left field for a two-run homer.
The Red Sox revved their offense with three straight hits to open the game — a double by Dustin Pedroia, an RBI single from Xander Bogaerts and another single from David Ortiz. The inevitable sputtering came quickly thereafter, as Boston did not register another hit all night.
Despite their inability to connect barrel to ball, the Red Sox had their share of opportunities. Their failure to collect a hit was felt most poignantly in the eighth, when a quartet of White Sox relievers each walked one Boston batter, with a run coming in to score on A.J. Pierzynski’s sacrifice fly. But with the bases loaded, Jackie Bradley, Jr. popped the ball up innocently behind short.
In one stretch in the middle innings, Chicago starter John Danks walked or hit five of 10 Boston batters; the Red Sox stranded all of them, including the sacks loaded in the third.
Danks, a left-hander whom the Red Sox have traditionally hit well, weaved his way through traffic on the bases to allow only the first-inning run over six frames.
Buchholz yielded the three runs (two earned) on six hits over six.
Divisions are not won in April, but the Red Sox need only look at last season for a reminder of the first month’s significance. By the first of May, Boston had already put 8.5 games between it and the preseason favorite Blue Jays. The tone had been set.
The Red Sox hope they are not feeling the other end of that seesaw this April, with a 5-10 record equal to the woebegone starts of 2011 and 2012 through 15 games.
With its emphasis on a moment in sports history just prior to my—and I never know how to put this—sports consciousness kicking in, Dream Team is the rare sports book I knew I needed to read. My earliest sports memories are all around 1992—Laettner’s shot, Sanders’ run through the Cowboys, my first Mets game.
As such, I remember the Dream Team being a big deal—we had posters and T-shirts and all—but I didn’t quite realize how big a deal it was for the sport globally. (I was five.)
Perhaps because the chapters are so short and the pace so breezy, McCallum’s book reads more like a survey than an in-depth analysis. There’s a lingering sense that McCallum got caught between two poles here: sticking to the story of the Dream Team specifically and exploring the shifting dynamic of the NBA in the early 1990s—from the league’s 1980s saviors to its 1990s advancers (with one guy specifically in mind). Focusing strictly on the Dream Team would have left out some of McCallum’s better stories about the personalities in here, Barkley especially. Going the other way, though, would have made this a much longer book, and probably a bit more of a slog.
What you get, then, is a pair of brief representative glimpses of each of the players—one focused on ‘92 and the other an “interlude” from McCallum’s 2011 interviews. McCallum knows the players well enough to avoid extrapolating unnecessarily in these short spaces, which is important. He also probably knows more than what he puts in here.
The Dream Team’s dominance is so self-evident, so taken-for-granted, that there isn’t much in the book about what made the team so much fun to watch. There’s John Stockton calling it “basketball poetry,” but there isn’t much showing to back it up. Maybe that’s impossible to do in text. The chapter breaking down the Dream Team scrimmage offers play-by-play and line-by-line trash talk, but it’s still not the same as actually watching the tape.