CHICAGO — The four-game losing streak is here.
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.