First Pitch: Thursday, September 22

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First Pitch: Thursday, September 22

By ArtMartone
CSNNE.com

Welcome toFirst Pitch, aquick spin around the world of Major League Baseball . . . or at leastthe corner of it that most concerns the Red Sox. For a complete wrapupof Wednesday's action, check out Craig Calcaterra's AndThatHappened(hardballtalk.nbcsports.com).

CHECKLIST:Let's see. They can't win when putrid starting pitchingputs them in an early hole from which they can't escape.

Theycan't win when they take a lead into the late innings and hand the ballto their most trusted relievers.

And now we discoverthey can't win whenthey hand their ace a 4-1 lead after five innings, or a 4-2 lead aftersix. (csnne.com)

More and more,that little joke we made yesterday is looking like an absolute truth:The only way the Red Sox will make the playoffs is if the Rays (and nowthe Angels, as well) lose all the rest of their games, because the Soxthemselves apparently plan on going0-for-infinity.

Not that it isn't a possibility, aswe'll see in a moment (at least as far as the Rays are concerned), butas strategies go . . . well, I've seen better.

Lastnight's goat wasJosh Beckett (csnne.com), who did it differently than hisrotation brethren -- he actually got out of the third inning -- butcouldn't hold a comfortable, late-inning lead against an awful opponenton a night when his team absolutely, positively needed him to step up.It was just thelatest in a series of pitching failures (Boston Herald) that havemade the Sox a national laughingstock and placed them on the precipiceof an historic September collapse. Ex-Sox GM Dan Duquette concurs,saying, "Ifthey don't make the playoffs, it's pretty clear why they didn't: It'sbecause of the pitching." (weei.com)

There's a little more to it than that -- assi.com's JoeLemire points out, thestreaky Sox' offense has scored 66 runs in the team's 5 wins thismonth, and 56 runs in the 16 losses -- but good pitching canwipe out a variety of ills. What the Red Sox have been getting thismonth barely resembles pitching, at least not of the major leaguevariety.

Which explains quite a bit about what'shappening now.

BEEN THERE: Orioles coach Willie Randolph wasmanager of the Mets when they blew a huge lead in 2007, and heknows what Terry Francona is going through. (ProvidenceJournal)

DONE THAT: Red Sox fans traditionally wouldblame the manager during bad times, but two championships seemed toinoculate Francona from that kind of criticism. Notanymore, says Tony Massarotti. (boston.com)

AND THAT: Controversy alsoseems to rear its ugly head during stretches like this, but JasonVaritek nipped one of them right in the bud. (BostonHerald)

GIVE ME SOMETHING, ANYTHING TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT:Well . . . ClayBuchholz may pitch this weekend. (csnne.com)

'YOU FEEL LUCKY': And whynot? The Rays have lost three straight to the Yankees andonly lost half-a-game in the standings. (St. PetersburgTimes)

LET'S GET REAL, SHALL WE? Ken Rosenthal saysthat, while you have to admire their spunk, the Rays -- as the Yankeesare demonstrating -- don't have the talent to be in the postseason andthe Red Sox "shouldbe embarrassed that the wild-card race is even close."(foxsports.com)

I think theyare, Ken. I think they are.

GUESS WHAT: The Rays aren'tthe only team in the Sox' rear-view mirror. (espn.com)
EVERYTHING HAS A PRICE: Yes, the Yankees helpedout the Red Sox by beating the Rays last night . . . but theyclinched the A.L. East in the process. (New York Daily News) Itcertainly madethem happy. (New YorkPost) JorgePosada, especially. (New York Post)

ONE MAN'S FLOOR IS ANOTHER MAN'S CEILING:Old friend David Pinto thinks the Yankees' division titleis BrianCashman and Joe Girardi's finest hour. (baseballmusings.com)

SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY:Cashman, incidentally, says one of the reasons for theYankees' resurgence from their mid-2000s doldrums is that hestudied the Red Sox and copied the 'Moneyball'-style tactics of TheoEpstein. (si.com)

MISERY LOVES COMPANY: Don'tfeel bad; theRed Sox aren't the only ones collapsing. (baseballmusings.com)

OLD FRIENDS: Derek Lowefinally came through for the Braves, butit didn't help (mlb.com) . . . After all that talk about histhreatening the record for home runs allowed, wouldn't you know that BronsonArroyo would go out and pitcha shutout (rotoworld.com) . . . There'd be no 'Moneyball'withoutBill James (si.com). But that would be fine with ChrisRusso . . .
AND FINALLY . . . who showswhy theycall him The Mad Dog. (siriusxmsports.com)

Merloni: ‘Missed opportunities left and right’ for Red Sox

Merloni: ‘Missed opportunities left and right’ for Red Sox

Lou Merloni talks about the Red Sox losing 6 out of the last 7 games and if David Price should have stayed in the game for the 9th inning.

McAdam: Red Sox at a loss after excruciating defeat

McAdam: Red Sox at a loss after excruciating defeat

There are still two full months of games left on the schedule and who knows what might happen in that time, or what else might befall the Red Sox.

But for now, it's no stretch to suggest that Thursday's excruciating 2-1 setback in Anaheim constitutes the worst loss of the season to date. The point hardly seems debatable.

Consider:

THE TIMING: This was the start of the longest, and in many ways, most challenging road trip of the season, with 11 games in 11 days. It comes immediately after a homestand that was highly disappointing, featuring a mere split with the last-place Minnesota Twins and a sweep at the hands of the otherwise mediocre Detroit Tigers.

There's been a great deal of attention focused on how many road games the Sox have to play through the rest of the season. Winning the opener -- and snapping a three-game losing streak in the process - would have felt like a strong statement that the club was ready and able to meet the challenges of the schedule.

THE STARTING PITCHER: The loss wiped out a standout performance by David Price, who may well hold the key to whether the Red Sox grab a playoff spot this fall.

Price has been woefully inconsistent in his first season with the Red Sox, alternating between brief stretches of dominance and periods of underwhelming outings.

For a change Thursday night, Price seemed on the verge of winning one of those "statement'' games, when he would make one measly run in the third inning stand up. There have been too many times, given his standing as the team's No. 1 starter, in which Price has pitched just well enough to lose -- like the pitcher's duels in which he came up short against the likes of Madison Bumgarner and Chris Tillman.

But on Thursday, Price didn't buckle. And never mind that he was matched against an aging and depleted Jered Weaver. Price had next-to-nothing with which to work, but he protected the 1-0 lead with a determination he has seldon shown in Boston.

And for his effort to go wasted sets an inauspicious marker for this demanding trip. There was something symbolic about having Price set the tone at the start with a low-scoring, must-have game.

He did his part. Unfortunately for Price, that wasn't enough.

THE WAY IN WHICH IT HAPPENED: Walk-off losses are never pleasant, whether they come on a homer, or a base hit up the middle.

But considering that the Red Sox had the ability to turn Daniel Nava's tapper to first into a game-ending double play, and instead, saw it result in a two-run throwing error on the part of Hanley Ramirez, makes it all the more crushing.

Brad Ziegler, who gave up a go-ahead game-winning homer in the final game of the homestand Wednesday, essentially did his job in the ninth. He got Mike Trout to hit a chopper, which resulted in an infield single. And he kept the ball on the ground and in the infield, with the Sox bringing the infield in with the bases loaded and one out.

Better execution, and the Red Sox walk away with a thrilling 1-0 victory to begin their West Coast trek. Instead, they walk off the field, heads down, with the wrong precedent being set.