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.