BOSTON -- And on the final night before the 4 p.m. trade deadline on Wednesday, the Red Sox reminded us of all the reasons they're currently out of the playoff picture.
You want a summary of the season to date -- and not just the last uplifting week, but the bad that came first -- this was it.
Starter David Price, long hailed as the ace, continued a stealth march to mediocrity that's now six weeks old. Remember those early days of April when no Red Sox starter could last five innings? Price harkened back to them with 4.1 innings of four-run ball, blowing a 3-1 lead in the process.
"It's been a grind over my past five or six starts," said Price, who has posted a 5.48 ERA in his last nine starts. "Outs are tough to get. It's been tough just throwing strikes."
The short outing meant extra innings for the bullpen, a punchline and punching bag practically since Day 1 for its inability to protect leads or keep games in the proper zip code. The trio of Marcus Walden, Josh Taylor, and Colten Brewer combined to blow a 5-4 lead in the sixth. In a perfect world, none of them would be on the roster. In this imperfect one, each has spent a portion of the season looking like he might be Alex Cora's choice for the seventh inning.
Still, this wasn't just about the pitching. The offense may be the best in baseball on paper, but it often disappears in tense situations. The Red Sox went 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position and left 11 on base, including seven in the final three innings. They moved the tying run to third with two outs in the seventh and ninth, but those innings ended with an Andrew Benintendi strikeout and Christian Vazquez fly ball to left.
"We didn't put them away," Cora acknowledged.
The defense did its part, too. For all his improvements at third base, Rafael Devers made his league-leading 17th error when he dropped a relay in the fourth. Instead of a potential double play and easy inning, Price ended up loading the bases and throwing 28 pitches. He escaped without allowing a run, but the Rays led off the fifth with two homers, a single, and a double to chase him.
The 6-5 loss dropped the Red Sox a game-and-a-half behind the Rays in the wild-card race and took some sheen off the 5-2 start to the season's pivotal 14-game stretch vs. Tampa and New York.
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski watched the game from his suite alongside advisors Frank Wren and Tony La Russa. The trade deadline is Wednesday at 4, and if the Red Sox want the final two months of the season to unfold a little more positively than the first four, they'll need to make at least one deal, if not two.
The priority remains relief. Cora did not mince words over the performance of his middle men on Tuesday. Brewer served up the big blow on a two-out, two-run double to Avisail Garcia.
"That can't happen," Cora said. "For us to take it to the next level, we've got to put guys away and that was a big shutdown inning for us. He put a good swing on it, we do what we do, and with two outs, it's tough. We've got to go back tomorrow and try to do it again."
They seem out on Mets closer Edwin Diaz, who blew his fifth save after allowing a hit and two walks in the ninth against the White Sox on Tuesday. They're more likely to target a pair of middle relievers, although one possibility -- Cincinnati's Amir Garrett -- is looking at a suspension after charging the Pirates dugout and throwing haymakers on Tuesday.
Whatever happens, the Red Sox will not reach the playoffs if they continue on their current course. Price, for one, is fascinated to see what upgrades they make.
"Excited," he said. "We aren't where we want to be in the standings but all in all, for the way we started, the way we played at home, we haven't put our best foot forward yet. That's a good sign considering where we are in the standings. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens tomorrow. I think everyone else is too."
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