Inconsistent defense proving an early obstacle for Red Sox

April 22, 2014 - 8:35 pm

While the Yankees flashed some leather in both the infield and outfield, the Red Sox' subpar defense played a critical role in their 9-3 defeat on Tuesday night. Though Jon Lester wasn't necessarily the recipient of a tough luck loss, shaky defense behind him led to a total of five unearned runs on the evening. "Errors are part of the game, mistakes are part of the game, and tonight that hurt us," Lester said. "Other nights, we've been able to make up for them or we were able to play exceptionally well. I'll never fault a guy for making an error, I know that the effort is always there." With two outs in the fifth inning, Mike Napoli missed a line drive off the bat of Brian Roberts that was hit his way, resulting in an error and allowing a run to score. Right fielder Grady Sizemore then collected the ball and threw to home (though it was off the mark) while Brian McCann, who advanced from first to second on the error, strayed away from second base towards the dugout. The miscues opened the floodgates for the Yankees, who took advantage of the second chance and scored three more runs thanks to a two-run double from Ellsbury and an RBI single from Derek Jeter. Napoli made no excuses for the misplay, assuring that the finger injury he suffered last week was not a factor. "I just didn't make the play," Napoli said. "It was a little weird...McCann was on first, and I kind of lost it for a second. I thought I was on it but I have to make that play. That was a key situation in the game...It kind of disappeared on me for a little bit. I have to stick with it and see it into my glove." That error in particular served as a turning point in the game, since the Red Sox had scored two runs on back-to-back home runs from Napoli and David Ortiz in the bottom of the fourth to cut the Yankees' lead in half. Lester could not record the final out of the inning, lasting just 4 2/3 and throwing 118 pitches. "That's why defense is important," Napoli said. "You get off the field, Lester doesn't have to throw extra pitches, you might get an extra inning or so [out of him]. That was a key time of the game and I've got to make that play." But poor defense was a theme throughout the entire evening. Earlier, in the top of the third inning, the Yankees collected three straight doubles to lead off the inning, all of which were close to being outs. Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. came within inches of nabbing a deep fly to center off the bat of Alfonso Soriano, but the ball bounced beside his glove. "I felt like I was pretty close," Bradley said. "It was one of those plays where you try to jump as high as you can and you probably take your eye off the ball at the last second as it's coming down." Mark Teixeira then followed up with a bloop to right field that fell in between a triangle of Dustin Pedroia, Sizemore and Napoli and resulted in a run. Then McCann lined a shot to left that Jonny Gomes was unable to track down. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski was the owner of the first of the Red Sox' two errors on the evening, skipping a throw into center field in the first inning while trying to catch Jeter heading to second after a passed ball. It was Pierzynski's second miscue of the season. "I just tried to hurry and made a bad throw," Pierzynski said. "It was a good read by Jeter, I was trying to make a play and I just short-hopped [Pedroia] and it went into center field." "Tonight, the ball gets away from him, he's throwing off balance, ends up throwing it into center field," manager John Farrell said of Pierzynski. "The only thing I can say to that is we continue to go through early work to get his footwork squared away." Without the solid gloves of Will Middlebrooks at third and Stephen Drew at shortstop and a constantly shuffled outfield alignment, inconsistent defense has plagued the Red Sox throughout the early going of 2014. Xander Bogaerts is still experiencing some growing pains at shortstop, while Bradley, Sizemore, and Daniel Nava have each played at least two different outfield positions, with Bradley and Sizemore each getting starts at all three. Prior to tonight, the Red Sox had the second-worst Defensive Efficiency Ratio in the American League at .682. "We've given some extra outs," Farrell said. "At this level, when you do that, you're asking for trouble. It's something we continue to address, work at internally. There's not going to be wholesale changes made. We have to go out and execute with greater efficiency." The Red Sox might get some help in that department soon with the impending return of Shane Victorino. The right fielder might bring a little more stability to an outfield that looks different just about every night. Middlebrooks, who is working his way back from a calf strain, may provide a defensive upgrade over the combination of Jonathan Herrera and Brock Holt when he returns. While it's hard to quantify the type of effect the less-than-stellar defense has had on the team's record thus far, on a night like Tuesday night it's easy to see the impact that a good defense can make.