With the loss to the Rays on Sunday, the Red Sox are in the midst of their worst month of the season, including their dismal April start. Boston is 4-13 in September and has seen its lead in the wild card standings go from nine games to the current two-game lead it holds over the Rays. If you ask Terry Francona, however, he’d say that all of that losing is in the past.
“What’s more important to me is that we’ve already done that,” Francona said of all the losses in September. “Now we’ve got to figure out a way to turn it around. I guess I choose to believe, knowing the guys down in the clubhouse like I do, we’ll meet this challenge and it will make us stronger.”
Dustin Pedroia was more direct on how the team is dealing with its September swoon.
“We’re not going to sit back and feel sorry for ourselves,” Pedroia said. “Nobody’s going to give us anything.”
Boston fell to Tampa Bay on Sunday, 8-5, in a game riddled with mistakes from Boston. Tim Wakefield struggled to command his unpredictable knuckleball, throwing two wild pitches and hitting a batter. Jarrod Saltalamacchia had trouble catching the knuckleball as well, as he gave up three passed balls with Wakefield pitching. In addition, the team committed two errors, both by third baseman Mike Aviles.
“We’re not playing good baseball, hands down,” Wakefield said following the game. “When we hit, we don’t pitch, and when we pitch, we don’t hit. We’re still in a good spot, we can’t push the panic button.”
While he may have made two costly errors, Aviles provided the Red Sox with some unlikely offense in the form of a three-run home run in the bottom of the seventh. It was Aviles’ second home run of the series. After the game, he did not show concern over Boston’s recent tailspin.
“Regardless of how things have been going a little bit lately, this is still a good team with a lot of talent,” Aviles said. “I’m very confident in our team’s ability. I don’t think there’s anything, really, to worry about. If we go out and keep playing baseball the way we know how, we’ll be fine.”
Multiple players expressed the fact that Boston is a team with talent that is simply not winning. It may be because that talent has not produced like it was earlier in the season. Adrian Gonzalez is hitting .250 in the month of September, and the Red Sox slugger did not record a single hit against Tampa Bay in the four-game series. David Ortiz has just six hits in Boston’s last seven games against Tampa Bay. Even Pedroia, who had been enjoying an excellent summer, is hitting .217 in September.
The pitching staff has been disjointed lately. While Jon Lester and Josh Beckett have pitched very well all season at the top of the staff, Beckett’s recent ankle injury threw some uncertainty even into that one-two tandem. Erik Bedard has been out since Sept. 3 with both lat and knee injuries, while John Lackey, Andrew Miller and Wakefield all have ERAs above 5.00 at the back end of the rotation.
Francona said that both pitching and hitting are to blame for Boston’s woes, but that Boston needs its starters to put the team in a position to win.
“I think it always starts with starting pitching,” Francona said. “We’ve been playing from behind a lot in this stretch and again that doesn’t mean you can’t win; it’s harder.”
Of course, losing multiple games has to wear on a team as well. Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said as much after the game when he described how winning breeds confidence, and vice versa.
“There’s this energy derived from winning, and it’s palpable,” Maddon said. “You wake up in the morning, it’s there. It’s your buddy, and you carry it around with you all day. If you don’t win, it’s not there, and you’re looking for it.”
Boston will have to rebound from Sunday’s loss quickly, as the Red Sox host a day-night doubleheader against the Orioles on Monday.
“Day night doubleheaders will wear you out,” Saltalamacchia said. “But we need every game. every run counts, every game counts. So we have to go out there and try to take two tomorrow and try to move on from there.