Unhappy trails have been Red Sox' trademark this year

Unhappy trails have been Red Sox' trademark this year
April 21, 2014, 4:30 pm
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BOSTON -- If it seems like every other game, the Red Sox are playing from behind . . . no, it's not your imagination.

It happened Sunday night, when the Baltimore Orioles jumped out to a 5-0 lead by the fifth inning.

It was more of the same Monday morning/afternoon . . . minus the happy ending, that is. Actually, it's been a pattern all season. In 20 games, the Red Sox have scored in the first inning exactly twice. And it took 15 games before it happened for the first time.

In the 20 games to date, they've been outscored 7-2 in the first inning. And 12-8 in the second. And 13-8 in the third. And 11-7 in the fourth.

Sensing a pattern?

Collectively, the Red Sox have been outscored 43-25 through the first four innings.

Occasionally the Red Sox made up for it, as they did Sunday night, when they scored three in the seventh, two more in the eighth and one in the ninth to overtake the Orioles.

But on Friday, the Orioles had themselves a 4-0 lead in the top of the third. Monday, it was more of the same when the Orioles sent nine men to the plate in the third and saw six of them score.

Once more, the Red Sox showed some resolve. But this time they seemed to have miscalculated the difficulty of their come-from-behind leap. Having spotted the O's lead a 6-0 head start, then allowing another run in the eighth, the Sox came up a run short.

The good news? The offense is starting to stir after 2 1/2 weeks that saw it sleepwalk through much of the schedule.

The bad news? The offense hasn't always been able to overcome the starter -- sometimes in conjunction with the defense -- giving the opponents the lead they've assumed early.

In the three of their last five losses, the Red Sox have trailed 6-2, 1-0, 4-0 and 6-0 by the sixth inning. For the season, the opposition has scored first in 13 of the 20 games.

That's no way to play.

"It takes some added energy,'' acknowledged John Farrell. "And while the body of work by our [starting] staff has been, I think, very good, we've had a number of games where it's been [falling behind by] one run, two runs, today obviously, six. We'd certainly like to get the offense going a little bit earlier rather than having to dig out of a hole.''

"We'd definitely rather have the lead,'' said David Ross. "But that doesn't worry us. I feel like a lot of times last year, we would fall behind. But four runs can't turn into five and five can't turn into six. The hole can't get too deep. That's what we talk about -- damage control. Limit the big innings.''

That didn't happen Monday, when the Orioles bunched hit after hit off Buchholz and sprinted to a 6-0 start.

"We're going to make our push,'' said Ross. "Let's just keep grinding, make our push. That's the kind of mentality we have to have. But we can't make the little mistakes. They show up in the game like today.''

Indeed, the Sox exhibited some poor fundamentals Monday, with three critical mistakes along taking place in the eighth inning.

In the top of the inning, Dustin Pedroia seemed to have some difficulty getting a feed to Xander Bogaerts on what should have been a double play. The Sox got one out instead of two when Steve Clevenger beat the throw to first. That proved costly when Clevenger ended up scoring what would be the deciding run, coming home two batters later when Ryan Flaherty singled to center and Jackie Bradley Jr.'s throw to the plate was way up the first-base line. Had Bradley made a more accurate throw, or chosen to hit the cutoff man, the Sox might have cut down that key run.

Things got worse in the eighth when, with Bogaerts on second and Daniel Nava at first, the Sox put a play on. But Bogaerts, blaming "miscommunication,'' got a very late break from second and was tagged out easily in a rundown between second and third for the third out.

Instead of having the potential tying runs on base, the Sox were taken out of the inning.

On the one hand, it's a positive sign that the Sox scored a total of nine runs from the sixth inning on in the last two games.

"We're going to play hard,'' said Pedroia. "We did some good things today.''

"A six-spot isn't where we want to be,'' said Ross. "It's better to play with the lead. But we battled. Most teams would throw in the towel. So that says a lot about the character of our team. And we still almost came back.''

Almost, though, isn't good enough. And while the Red Sox' ability to stage comebacks may be admirable, at some point, wins are more valuable than noble efforts.