BOSTON — As long as the Sox don’t make a habit of such sloppy play, what will resonate from Tuesday night’s crime against fielding is less the shortcoming itself and more its handling.
The honeymoon effect is ongoing. Some memorable, bold words from Alex Cora can still outshine the problem the manager is addressing, particularly if it’s an issue the Sox haven’t experienced before under his watch.
The Red Sox made four errors in Tuesday’s 13-inning, 7-6 loss to the Royals. Defense was one of the Sox’ stronger suits through the first month of the season, but they collectively fell apart Tuesday against a bad team in a most winnable game. The four scored errors didn’t tell the whole story, either.
But, Cora was calm, matter of fact, and scathing.
“Awful, awful,” Cora said when asked about the defense, starting his answer before the question was done, an indication he knew what he wanted to say the moment the unavoidable subject was brought up. “That was a horrible game. Yeah. We were lucky we were playing 13 innings, honestly. That was bad. Mental mistakes, physical mistakes. All kinds of mistakes. That was awful.”
This isn’t the first time Cora has shown a penchant for accountability. Christian Vazquez, in the lineup for his defense, had the worst night of all.
Some of the key misplays:
- Sal Perez hit a grounder to begin the top of the fourth inning that third baseman Rafael Devers misplayed. Devers made some fantastic plays on Tuesday, but as is often the case for younger players, routine plays can be the most trying. “With Salvy, instead of, he sees the hop, just take a step back and make the throw to first, he charges it, gets the in-between hop, he misses it,” Cora said.
- Perez scored later in the fourth on a sacrifice fly for an unearned run off Chris Sale. J.D. Martinez showed a strong throwing arm on his throw home, but Vazquez couldn’t snare the throw as he went for the tag simultaneously. Vazquez typically makes the play, and Perez is would have been out had he squeezed the ball. “It happens,” Sale said of the defense generally. “These guys put a lot of work, a lot of effort . . . You can’t be perfect every time out. You’re going to make some great plays for us and you’re going to make mistakes, just like pitchers are going to go out their and dominate and blow leads and give up runs and stuff like that. I don’t think this game is a pointing-fingers game. You can’t really pinpoint one thing tonight that lost it for us.” Vazquez was given an error on this play because other runners moved up.
- The Royals’ second run came in the sixth inning on a double steal with runners on the corners. The Red Sox decided to throw through, with Vazquez throwing to shortstop Xander Bogaerts, rather than throwing to third base. Bogaerts didn’t send the ball back home though, despite a bad jump by the runner on third base, Jon Jay. “It was a good throw but lower, so he decided to get [the trail runner],” Cora said of Bogaerts. “Perfect-case scenario, we want him to cut the ball and go to the plate."
- The Royals were in prime position to score in the eighth inning because of another steal attempt with two on. Bogaerts, throwing to third base after receiving Vazquez’s throw, threw the ball away, although not far enough to allow a runner to score. That was error No. 3.
- In the 10th, Vazquez was called for touching the ball with his mask -- an obscure rule, but one that indeed is impermissible. That allowed a pair of base runners to move up, but they were stranded in a game tied at 3.
- When the Royals took a short-lived lead in the 12th on a sacrifice fly for the first out of the inning, Andrew Benintendi threw home when he should have thrown to second base. The Royals didn’t score again in the inning but the mental mistake put another in scoring position with only one out.
In an oddity, the Red Sox made four errors on May 1, 2017, as well. It was the second time in three games they made four errors. Former Sox manager John Farrell didn’t pretend the Sox were playing well, although he didn’t go as far as Cora.
“Defensively, those are plays that are routine plays. We're better than that,” Farrell said a year ago. “We’ve got to clean it up. It's a matter of anticipating the play before it's hit to you, whether it's a ground ball on the front end of a double play, whether it's understanding where base runners are with a ball to the outfield, throwing the ball accurately as best possible. We're in a tough stretch defensively, far beyond what our capabilities are. We need to clean it up.