Tomase: Discombobulated Red Sox never gave themselves a chance in ghastly Game 1

John Tomase
October 14, 2018 - 1:38 am
Yuli Gurriel

Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

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We all suspected the Astros wouldn't be intimidated by playoff baseball in Fenway Park. What we didn't see coming was the Red Sox suffering a collective nervous breakdown.

It's one thing to lose to a great team -- the Astros certainly qualify. It's another to fall because you roll down the stairs and plummet over the right field railing like Nordberg in the Naked Gun.

The Red Sox couldn't get out of their own way in Saturday's 7-2 loss, and it started at the top. Ace Chris Sale strafed the area around home plate with all the accuracy of a kid chucking a handful of pebbles at the ocean. Manager Alex Cora got himself ejected arguing a called third strike on someone who ended up whiffing three times. That someone was left fielder Andrew Benintendi.

J.D. Martinez decided his time would be better spent arguing a called third strike on a check swing rather than running to first when the ball bounced 20 feet from home plate. Catcher Christian Vazquez misfired so badly on a stolen base attempt, his throw nailed human scowl Joe West in the second base hole. Gold Glove right fielder Mookie Betts dropped the first pop-up of the game after a long run.

Deep breath. There's more. Third baseman Eduardo Nunez failed to lay a glove on a two-run single hit 11 inches to his left and then made an error that led to Houston's third run. The Red Sox walked 10, hit three batters, and allowed a pair of homers. They managed only two hits of their own, scoring their only runs on a bases loaded walk and wild pitch.

Oh, and the crowd was dead.

Oh, and David Price starts Game 2 with the season on the line.

As far as disasters go, this was the Poseidon plowing into the Towering Inferno on Independence Day while Mars Attacked.

So what went wrong?

"Everything," Martinez said.

The good news is it's only one game, and the Red Sox have demonstrated an admirable ability to forget about the bad ones, whether it's blowing the opener in Tampa, getting no-hit by the A's, or losing Game 2 of the ALDS when Gary Sanchez launched two home runs to the moon.

But the Astros represent an entirely different opponent. The defending champs arrived with a major chip on their shoulder, wondering what they had to do to earn a game in primetime. Their swagger is best personified by All-Star third baseman Alex Bregman, who didn't like taking a Joe Kelly fastball off the elbow and then got revenge by scoring.

The Astros played like a team that expects to win it all. The Red Sox played like a team buckling under the weight of 108-win expectations.

Take Cora's ejection. Benintendi took a borderline pitch for strike three to end the fifth. Replays showed it clearly outside. Had the Red Sox gotten the call, the bases would've been loaded for Martinez. Benintendi slammed half of his equipment at the feet of home plate ump James Hoye before third base coach Carlos Febles interceded. Cora rushed to defend the young outfielder, but continued chirping after he returned to the dugout. The heave-ho left the Red Sox without their leader in a 2-1 game.

"You can't argue balls and strikes," Cora said. "And I did. It's kind of like embarrassing that it happens in the playoffs. That wasn't cool watching the game in the clubhouse. I got a job to do and manage the team in the dugout.

"But sometimes you've got to do what you've got to do and you've got to defend your players. And at least Andrew stayed in the game and he had a few more at-bats and he played left field while I was watching in my office."

By that point, Sale had already struggled with low-90s velocity and nonexistent command. "Just kind of out there searching for it," he said.

With two outs in the second, he loaded the bases against the 7-8-9 hitters with two walks and a hit-by-pitch before George Springer lined an RBI single under the glove of Nunez.

"I think I had a chance to catch that ball," Nunez said. "He hit it hard, the ball, it was pretty good hitter, but I have to take that ball."

It was that kind of night for the Red Sox, who had best get their bleep together by Sunday night or risk a bunch of glum New Englanders flipping to the Patriots en masse in search of something to cheer.

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