The Boston Red Sox have faced the Oakland A’s six times over the course of the 2016 season. The combined score of those games is Boston 67, Oakland 20. The Red Sox beat Oakland in five of six contests and as the total run score indicates, many of those games were not very close.
Sunday’s game was close.
It was close, it was a nail-biter, it featured Red Sox second year starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning, only to see it vanish when A’s shortstop Marcus Semien was credited with an infield hit after a replay overturned him being called “out” at first.
Rodriguez went 7.2 innings before allowing a hit, he left the game after eight shutout innings in which he allowed just one hit, walked two and struck out five. It was a masterful performance by the young starter who has endured a rocky second year complete with multiple injuries and performances memorably good and stunningly bad.
Normally you don’t complain too much when your young starter nearly throws a no-hitter, but as the old bumper sticker said “why be normal?”
Rodriguez left a tied game, it was 0-0 after eight innings of play. The Red Sox offense which had pummeled A’s pitching in five contests was no where to be found Sunday. Coming into Sunday the least amount of runs the Red Sox had scored against Oakland this season was the 11 runs they put up Saturday night.
Sunday was different.
Kendall Graveman is by no means a Cy Young contender, but as far as A’s starting pitchers go, he’s about as good as they’ve got this year. Graveman was at his best on Sunday, he went 6.1 innings, allowed six hits, zero runs, walked two, and struck out seven Red Sox batters along the way.
Graveman departed and Ryan Dull came on in relief. Dull is one of Oakland’s better bullpen arms and he stifled the Red Sox offense for 1.2 innings.
Ryan Madson came on to easily retire the Red Sox in order in the top of the 9th, and that set the stage for what has become an annoying habit this year, a heartbreaking loss in the bottom of the ninth.
Craig Kimbrel is having the worst season any All-Star closer who throws 100 miles per hour and has an ERA under 3.00 could possibly have.
Sunday he walked lead-off hitter Danny Valencia on five pitches. A’s cleanup hitter Khris Davis was up next. Davis smashed Kimbrel’s first offering to left field, the ball caromed off the wall and when Brock Holt misplayed the carom, Valencia was able to score all the way from first to hand Oakland a dramatic 1-0 walk-off win.
Only the 2016 Red Sox could win two of three on the road in Oakland by a combined score of 27-5 and come away feeling bad about the series.
It didn’t help that a few hours before the walk-off loss, the Tampa Bay Rays had blown a 3-1 seventh inning lead over the Toronto Blue Jays and lost 5-3. That meant that the Red Sox dropped from a first place tie with the Blue Jays into second place in the AL East.
There was so much to like about the Red Sox road trip to Oakland. The team’s top prospect and the top prospect in the majors Yoan Moncada made his big league debut. Moncada has made a few mistakes, an error on Sunday as well as being picked off first in the top of the 3rd inning. He’s also smacked a few hits, driven in a run and scored a few as well.
The offense, up until Sunday had been fantastic.
The issue though is the loss. Every team looses games, but has any Red Sox team in recent memory been able to lose so many close games in such a variety of painful ways? The Red Sox are 16-19 in one-run games. They’re 76-60 overall which adds up to almost one-third of their losses being of the one-run variety.
Think about that, one out of every three Red Sox losses is a one-run nail-biter. It doesn’t just feel like every Red Sox loss is a painfully close loss, for this Red Sox team almost every loss really is painfully close. The Red Sox are also 27-11 in blowouts or games decided by 5 or more runs. So bascially the team wins games that are not close, and loses more than their fair share of the close ones.
That trend might not end up impacting the team’s quest for a postseason berth. Sunday’s loss dropped the Red Sox one game back of Toronto in the AL East, but they still have a two game cushion as the league’s top seeded wild card entry.
The painfully close losses will almost certainly spell doom for the Red Sox once the postseason actually starts.
They’ve made what should be a very enjoyable regular season, tough to enjoy at times. Think about it, the Red Sox are 76-60, they’re in playoff contention for the first time since 2013. The last two seasons haven’t just been without playoff games, they’ve featured last place finishes. In fact the Red Sox have finished in last place in three of the last four seasons.
That type of recent track record should make a 76-60 season one filled with joy and reasons for optimism. The Red Sox might not be the most dominant team in baseball, but they’ve got a legit Cy Young contender in Rick Porcello, two legit MVP contenders in David Ortiz and Mookie Betts and they’ve got one a group of exceptionally talented young hitters who look like they’ll be good or even great for years to come.
In spite of all of that, losses like Sunday’s have made this season far tougher to endure than anyone would have thought possible.