BOSTON -- It was merely a single loss in the course of the long, six-month slog that is the regular season. But in some ways, the Red Sox' 7-2 defeat to the Texas Rangers on Tuesday night served as a telling snapshot to their troubles.
Over the offseason, the Red Sox addressed their two primary needs -- a front-of- the-rotation starter and a proven closer -- with the singing of David Price and the trade for Craig Kimbrel.
Whatever else needed attention for the 2016 Red Sox, at least Dave Dombrowski had solved the biggest holes in the pitching staff.
Or so it seemed.
But on Tuesday night, it didn't work that way at all. Price needed exactly one pitch to fall behind 1-0, and trailed 2-0 after one inning.
Price then righted things and deftly pitched out some mini-jams, but made the mistake of giving back a run an inning-and-a-half after the Red Sox had fought back to tie the game at 2-2. He got through the eighth, and left the game trailing 3-2.
Ordinarily, three runs allowed in eight innings hardly constitutes a poor start. But it was the way Price pitched -- putting the Sox behind from the top of the first, then yielding a demoralizing go-ahead run not long after they'd pulled even -- that left an unsatisfying feel to the outing.
Price, for the second straight start, was downbeat in his postgame remarks. He must have uttered the word "execute'' -- or some form thereof -- no fewer than a dozen times.
No, he wasn't interested in another double-digit strikeout performance (he fanned 10, with just one walk). No, he wasn't re-thinking his pregame routine after yet another poor first inning. Yes, he knew he had to get better.
It's become a familiar refrain for Price. He patiently, without much expression to his face, takes questions after his starts and often sounds the same themes: He has to be better. He expects more from himself. It will improve.
He says these things with conviction, but there's a weariness to his remarks. He's the underperforming student vowing to do better on his next test. He's the repentant child promising to do the chores he's once again negelcted.
There are no excuses offered, no others to blame. He knows, he knows.
Then there's Kimbrel, who's less forthcoming and less interested in going over the details of a soiled outing.
Typically, Kimbrel offers up an all-too-obvious, slightly sarcastic explanation for his stumbles.
Asked for his theory on why he struggled so in non-save situations, Kimbrel is apt to respond, straight-faced: "I've been giving up too many runs.''
Beyond stating the obvious, Kimbrel appears to have few theories about the true root cause. He swears it's not mental, but given the incredible disparity between save situations (1.45 ERA) and non-save situations (6.75 ERA), it's tough to think otherwise.
As manager John Farrell correctly noted, Tuesday's outing was hardly adrenaline-free: The Sox trailed by one and had the middle third of their order due against a Texas bullpen that has been every bit as suspect as Boston's. This was hardly mop-up duty, for which a closer might have difficulty becoming invested.
To be fair, Kimbrel has been mostly excellent. He's converted 17-of-19 save opportunities and Tuesday represented only the second time since May 31 that he'd been scored upon. If you're going an entire month without allowing a run, you must be doing something right.
But closers don't get to always pick and choose their spots and the job requires consistent excellence, not periodic displays of dominance.
It's been much the same with Price, who had an eight-start stretch that featured a 2.48 ERA. But just as Kimbrel needs to pitch better when his team needs him to keep a game tied or close, Price must become more consistently reliable and exhibit the dominance that he's only hinted at.
It's far too soon to say that Price and Kimbrel have been busts, or that the Red Sox spent too much money on the former and too many prospects on the latter.
What is clear is this: Neither has been the pitcher he was expected to be.