Watching the Red Sox lose because they can't hit or their bullpen stinks may not exactly be acceptable, but it's understandable. Maybe this is who they really are.
But watching the Red Sox lose because they forget the number of outs or fail to leave the batter's box or take three horrible swings when virtually any contact will win the game? That's inexcusable. And unless they want this season of promise to be remembered as a whimpering whoopie cushion of sadness, they'll wake the bleep up.
Wednesday's 9-6 loss to the Twins was an affront to the game not because Hansel Robles surrendered a pair of mammoth homers in the 10th inning to one of the worst teams in the American League. The Red Sox embarrassed themselves with the kind of glaring mental errors that make you wonder if they even care.
First, veteran catcher Christian Vazquez didn't run on contact from second on Kyle Schwarber's two-out flare in the third. By the time he realized the ball had found the right field grass, he had to stop at third. He signaled across the diamond to Schwarber to acknowledge his mental error, and then trudged slowly back to the dugout with his head bowed when Xander Bogaerts left him stranded.
One inning later, outfielder Alex Verdugo launched a ball high and far the other way. Rather than sprint out of the box, Verdugo admired what he assumed to be an opposite-field homer. When the ball instead scraped the Monster, he belatedly sprinted before slamming on the breaks rounding first, where Platinum Glover Andrelton Simmons erased him with a laser of a relay from short.
Then in the ninth, after Schwarber's two-run homer had dramatically tied the game, Verdugo chased three straight non-competitive pitches with the winning run on third and one out, whiffing to help force extra innings.
Manager Alex Cora could barely contain his disgust in the aftermath, but the longer these fundamental errors occur, the more we must consider if he's part of the problem. It's not the first time his club has run into an out this month -- Vazquez inexplicably trying to steal third in a 1-1 game against the Blue Jays springs to mind -- and at some point the manager's words must be backed by consequences.
"It's an area we've been bad," Cora said. "We forgot the outs, we didn't run out of the box. It's probably a different game early on. Obviously they don't want to do that, but like I've been saying, sometimes we're not doing enough, pushing-wise, because it keeps happening. Yeah, it's on them. It's on us. As a group, we're not doing a good job with that. Those things you can control -- know the outs, run out of the box. It's one of those that we need to, at this stage, it's tough to watch. We talk about it, but it keeps happening. As a staff, we've got to keep pushing, keep pushing. We can't give up."
If the message isn't connecting, then maybe it needs to arrive more forcefully. Cora the player had no tolerance for mental errors, which helped make him a leader despite playing a utility role. I distinctly remember a 2008 game in Yankee Stadium when a young Jacoby Ellsbury fielded what looked like a clean walk-off single to center. Cora, however, recognized that the runners were celebrating and had stopped sprinting, which created the possibility of a double play. He jumped up and down on second base, but Ellsbury never looked up and when I asked Cora about it after the game, he simply said, "I'll talk to him."
He has similarly made his displeasure known with this group, suggesting that a lack of hustle and/or awareness has led to benchings that went unnoticed outside the clubhouse, but perhaps more drastic steps are in order. After a five-error debacle on Saturday vs. the Rangers and two more errors that nearly cost them Monday's series finale, watching them once again blunder their way around the bases could make even a casual fan taste bile.
"It's very frustrating to see a team that I manage just be sloppy fundamentally," Cora said. "It's hard. It's hard. That's my biggest battle, because I do believe the talent is here. But from my end, it's all we've been talking about the whole time in spring training. We've been talking about it the whole season. But it keeps happening."
It's one thing to lose because the talent legitimately isn't there. It's another to play like you don't care. Those of us resisting the narrative that the Red Sox are simply seeking their level are starting to feel like chumps.