BOSTON - If the Red Sox need a team song, Ringo Starr's "It Don't Come Easy" wouldn't be a bad choice.
They're singing the blues AND paying their dues, and their 2019 season sure as bleep hasn't come easy.
On Wednesday, they cruised past the Tigers in a game that was harder than it looked. They took command behind an outstanding start from left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez and early offense from Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez.
Still, given the opportunity to blow things open early, they instead did what they've done all year, which is grind like a millstone. When Matt Barnes loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, the Tigers even brought the go-ahead run to the plate.
Barnes escaped and the offense finally exploded in the bottom of the frame. The scorebook will show a safe 11-4 victory.
Reality tells a slightly different story, one that has repeated itself throughout this vexing young season.
A year after going 38-17 in blowouts decided by at least five runs, the Red Sox are now 1-5.
"I feel like we hadn't had a night like that this season," Martinez said. "For us to do that tonight I think is a good sign. We were kind of talking about it, joking about it today in the cage. We were like, 'This is the first night we've actually had it like this.' Last year, it felt like we had a lot like these. This is the first one. It's good."
He's not exaggerating. It's actually instructive and borderline amazing to break down their previous nine wins.
How many of these sound easy?
- They trailed 6-2 in the eighth inning of their first victory, vs. Seattle on March 29, before Mitch Moreland's pinch three-run homer won it in the ninth.
- Tied at 3 in the ninth with Oakland five days later, Mookie Betts squibbed a double off the third base bag that allowed the Red Sox to escape.
- Their only other victory on the season-opening road trip came in Arizona, where Moreland's solo homer in the seventh provided the margin in a 1-0 victory.
- A day after dropping their home opener, the Red Sox trailed the Blue Jays 6-5 in the ninth. They loaded the bases vs. closer Ken Giles and Rafael Devers won it with a chopper over a drawn-in infield.
- A pair of victories over the woeful Orioles didn't even qualify as stress-free. On April 12, the Red Sox led 3-2 in the seventh before pulling away in a 6-4 victory that still required closer Ryan Brasier to finish things off after Tyler Thornburg served up a two-run homer in the ninth.
- Two days later, the Red Sox found themselves clinging to a 1-0 lead in the eighth before Xander Bogaerts blasted an insurance three-run homer that provided the final margin in a 4-0 victory.
- And finally, here's all you need to know about the weekend sweep in Tampa: all three games were tied in the eighth inning. The Red Sox won them by a combined total of four runs.
Nothing stresses a team like close games, and that's about all the Red Sox seem able to play. Just as a manager will pull a pitcher after a particularly taxing inning despite a relatively low pitch count, teams need a breather, too. If every game is a grind, the mental toll will accumulate.
We tend to focus on close wins, but easy ones help players survive a season.
"It's very important," Betts said. "Sometimes, you just want to sit back and chill and coast and know it's one of those things where you don't necessarily want to do it, but then it's also one of those things where sometimes you want to just coast through a win and today was one of those times. We'll see what happens tomorrow."
That's how the Red Sox went about their business in 2018. They followed brutal losses with easy wins. The most notable example came in the Division Series. They dropped a tense Game 2 vs. the Yankees and followed with a 16-1 drubbing in Game 3 that featured the first postseason cycle in history from Brock Holt.
Stress? What stress? The Red Sox could use many more nights like Wednesday, the kind that end with that peaceful, easy feeling, to quote some other '70s rockers.
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