Sunday, October 7, 2018

ALDS Game 2: New York Yankees at Red Sox (October 6, 2018)

What an absolute disaster. While it may seem strange to declare game two in a five game series "must win," that's exactly how I felt about this game heading into it. The Red Sox won game one by the skin of their teeth and hadn't scored since the third inning of that game. While that was concerning, they seemed to be set up perfectly to win game two. David Price was pitching at home which should have alleviated some of the pressure on him to finally deliver in the postseason and the Yankees were countering with Masahiro Tanaka who had a pretty down season and who the Red Sox have traditionally beat up on. Of course, games are won or lost on the field and not on the stat sheets and there was no more painful reminder of that than in this game.

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I was rooting so hard for David Price to finally break through and win his first career postseason game. I wasn't the only one, either, as he got a loud and warm ovation from the Fenway crowd when he ran onto the field from the bullpen. I figured he had to be finally due to pitch a great game and get that monkey off of his back. It was set up perfectly with him pitching at home against Tanaka: the Red Sox should be able to give him a lot of run support and if he could give them five or six or seven quality innings, they could take a 2-0 series lead. Instead, it couldn't have gone any worse than it did. After retiring Andrew McCutchen to lead off the game, Price ran the count on Aaron Judge to two strikes before giving up an absolute bomb of a home run. Okay, that was only a solo home run...no big deal, I thought. He gave up another solo shot to one of my most hated Yankees, Gary Sanchez, in the second. Again, it was only 2-0, not the end of the world. When he gave up an RBI single off the Green Monster to McCutchen later in the inning after issuing a pair of walks, though, it looked like the wheels were falling off of the cart. Cora gave him the early hook and Price's night was over; it was an absolute trainwreck, lasting only 1.2 innings and resulting in three runs on three hits (two of them home runs), two walks, and no strikeouts. I think I speak for every Red Sox fan when I say that what made it even worse was that it meant we were going to see 7+ innings of the Boston bullpen. But a funny thing happened: the bullpen was great (for the most part). Joe Kelly threw 2.1 shutdown innings and only gave up one hit. Ryan Brasier pitched a hitless inning and had a great moment where he told that lazy load Sanchez to "get in the ****ing box!" and then struck him out. Brandon Workman, who looked shaky in game one and still seemed to be battling nerves, only recorded one out and gave up two hits which led to disaster for Eduardo Rodriguez. E-Rod looked to be the Sox secret weapon out of the pen this postseason but he was anything but when he gave up a three run homer to the hated Sanchez which put the game out of reach. Honestly, this game felt out of reach from the moment it was 3-0 Yankees in the second inning (and it felt like a blowout even though the final score was only 6-2). Tanaka was anything but intimidating and his stuff was unimpressive offspeed junk that the Sox just flailed at all night. It continued a trend this season where pitchers who throw a bit slower and keep the ball off of the plate flummox them. Until late in the game the only Red Sox run came off of Xander Bogaerts' solo homer in the fourth. They added another run in the bottom of the seventh when Ian Kinsler doubled to drive Mitch Moreland in, but that was it as the Sox went down meekly and embarrassingly to the Yankees 6-2.

Beyond the series now being tied at a game apiece, there are a lot of additional concerns for the Red Sox. For the third straight postseason, Mookie Betts has completely vanished in October. He's 1-7 in this series, his lone hit being a double in game one. Andrew Benintendi's second half struggles continue as he seems to be pressing at the plate and his power has completely left him. The entire Red Sox lineup looks like they're pressing and they've been ineffective at converting the limited chances they've had. They've been outhit in both games (8-5 in this one) and outscored in the series 10-7. They've gone up against two of the Yankees' weaker starters and only won one game. Now they have to go on the road and face Luis Severino and CC Sabathia in Yankee Stadium where those two are dominant. They'll counter with Rick Porcello (who has been terrible in the postseason in his career) and Nathan Eovaldi. I don't know about you but that doesn't make me feel all warm and fuzzy. And then there's David Price. On one hand because I was pulling for him to finally deliver, I felt bad for him when he got booed off the mound in the second inning after Cora pulled him. On the other hand, he absolutely deserved it with the performance he had. The painful irony was that game two was a night where the Red Sox FINALLY got a quality outing from their bullpen who kept it close for an extended period of time, and yet it was their potent offense that completely vanished and couldn't capitalize.

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I don't mean to sound fatalistic and perhaps it's just the scars I carry for all of the pre-2004 Red Sox teams I rooted for, but I'm going to share one of my biggest fears with you that I've kept mostly to myself all season: I don't think this Red Sox team is built for the postseason. They were a great regular season team, but their combination of a shaky bullpen, inconsistent starting pitching (including three top line starters who, until Sale's win on Friday night, hadn't won a playoff start between them), and bats that always seem to disappear in October spell out a short stay in the postseason to me. Of biggest concern is Mookie. While there's almost no chance that he won't win the AL MVP, he has yet to produce in the postseason in his career. This is his third consecutive trip to the playoffs so nerves and inexperience can't be used as an excuse any more. I love the guy, he's already one of my all-time favorite players to ever put on a Red Sox uniform, but he'll be entering David Price territory if he fails to produce for the remainder of this series. Going into this slate of games, I had told myself that if the Red Sox won the first two games, they'd win the series in five, but that if they split or lost both, they'd lose the series in four. Either way, I didn't see them getting past Houston or Cleveland in the ALCS even though I would absolutely love for them to go all the way. You can call me reactionary or pessimistic right now, but I don't think the Red Sox have looked good in this series despite their game one win (remember, they went from the third inning of game one to the fourth inning of game two without scoring a single run) while conversely the Yankees are feeling good about themselves and are starting to show that swagger that we Red Sox fans hate about them. Unless Boston snaps out of it and gets over their nerves or whatever it is that seems to always cause them to seize up in October, this series won't be coming back to Fenway Park. As for Price, at this point I don't know what they can do with him. He cannot and should not pitch again in this series should they be fortunate enough to get it back to Boston. His postseason failures are so far in his head that I don't ever see him being able to get past them. However, they may not have a choice if they continue to need Eduardo Rodriguez out of the bullpen. I'm glad I don't have to make that decision. As for the man who does, Alex Cora did not have a good night in game two and made some questionable decisions. One decision I'll never understand is why he continues to rely on two guys who haven't hit in more than two months (Ian Kinsler and Mitch Moreland) while sitting their two red hot substitutes (Brock Holt and Steve Pearce, respectively). Also, Eduardo Nunez is providing improved (not great, but improved) defense at third but nothing at the plate. At this point, what can hurt it to put Rafael Devers in? These and many more are decisions that Cora will need to figure out, and fast, if the Red Sox are going to stay in this series. We'll see how everything shakes out in game three on Monday night.

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