The Red Sox' Lost July
On the morning of July 1, less than one month ago, the Boston Red Sox were 43-33 and tied with Toronto for the top spot in the American League wild-card race. They had a plus-60 run differential, good for third in the American League and not too far behind Houston for second.
No, they were not a serious threat to the Yankees, who were already 12 1/2 games up in the AL East, but baseball isn’t really played that way anymore. Let the Yankees win the division. Tampa Bay had won it easily in 2021 and look where it got them — Boston beat the Rays in four games in the Division Series, this after taking out the Yankees in the wild-card game …
If you get into the playoffs, you’re dangerous. We all understand that.
And Boston’s chances of making the playoffs on the morning of July 1 was hovering around 80 percent. The return of Chris Sale seemed imminent. Rafael Devers looked like a viable MVP candidate. It all seemed pretty good.
They’ve gone 7-17 since then. Their run differential is now minus-14. And I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a team collapse the way these Red Sox have collapsed.
So that’s the first reaction, and we’ll unpack Boston’s epic slide in a minute. But first let’s look at the top five collapses in MLB history.
No. 1: 1995 California Angels
This was an odd year in so many ways — remember, the owners wanted to start the season with scab players, the season didn’t start until late April, etc. — so it’s easy to miss just how remarkable this collapse was. On Aug. 24, the Angels were 67-44, eight-and-a-half games up in the AL West. But what was really incredible was that even though they promptly lost nine a row and 11 of their next 12, at the end of the slide they were STILL 5 1/2 games up in the division.
It didn’t seem to matter how badly the Angels played; nobody else in the AL West was good enough to take it from them.
But then the Angels went on an ANOTHER nine-game losing streak. And this time it did matter because at the exact same time, the humble Seattle Mariners — behind the power of Ken Griffey Jr., and the brilliant pitching of Randy Johnson — got red hot. The M’s won 10 of 11 and took a three-game lead in the division. In all, the Angels had lost 22 of 28 games when it looked like the division was all but wrapped up.
The Angels heroically won five in a row to end the season, so they ended up tied with Seattle, leading to a one-game playoff … which the Mariners won 9-1 behind a three-hit, 12-strikeout performance from the Big Unit.
No. 2: Tied — 2011 Red Sox and 2011 Braves
These aren’t really tied — the Red Sox collapse was MUCH worse than the Atlanta collapse — but we’ll put them together since their dreams ended on the same day, that incredible, absurd, wonderful, terrible final day of the 2011 season. As I might have mentioned, I’m writing a book called Why We Love Baseball, which will be, loosely speaking, a countdown of the greatest moments in baseball history.
A little behind-the-scenes: For a number of reasons, I’ve been going back and forth and back and forth on whether to include that day in the book.
The Red Sox were 82-51 and leading the division after sweeping a doubleheader on Aug. 27. They had the best record in the American League, the second-best record in baseball, and though they weren’t thinking about wild cards, well, in case of emergency, they were NINE GAMES UP in the wild-card race.
The collapse was thorough. I can vividly remember tweeting something in the middle of the month — maybe after the Red Sox lost two or three in a row — along the lines of: “At what point do Red Sox fans start panicking?” It was kind of a joke; they were still nearly 100 percent certain to make the playoffs.
Only they kept on losing and kept on losing more — five in a row, then two in a row, then three in a row, then suddenly — after going 7-19 for the month — they HAD to beat Baltimore on the last day to get into the playoffs. They led the Orioles 4-2 going into the ninth inning. Closer Jonathan Papelbon struck out the first two batters swinging — it looked easy. Heck, some Red Sox were probably back in the clubhouse drinking beer and eating fast-food chicken.
And … yes, I see you Red Sox fans. I see you squirming. I see you trying to choke the computer screen. I see you asking, “Why is this guy bringing this up?”
So, yes, you can ask: “Is this REALLY why we love baseball?”
Anyway, the Orioles came back to win the game, and everybody of note either left the Red Sox or got fired, and that was that.
Atlanta’s story was simpler: That was not a great Braves team, but they seemed pretty much assured of the final wild-card spot …
… and then they lost their final five games, the last one in extra innings, to drop out.
No. 4: 2007 Mets
Oh, the poor Mets. Up seven games after beating Atlanta on Sept. 12. You know how hard it is to blow a seven-game lead with 17 games left?
The Mets lost five in a row … and their lead over Philadelphia shrunk to 1 1/2 games.
But then they righted things, winning five of six, building the lead back to 2 1/2 games with seven games left. And six of those seven were against two of the worst teams in the National League — Washington and Florida.
On Monday, they lost to Washington 13-3 as a couple of Ryans — Ryan Church and Ryan Langerhans — drove in a combined five runs.
On Tuesday, the Nationals pounded future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine and took a seven-run lead into the bottom of the ninth. The Mets, impossibly, scored six runs and had the tying run on second with only one out. But Washington’s Jon Rauch came in, struck out Carlos Delgado and got Paul Lo Duca to line out.
On Wednesday, the Mets led 4-0 after three innings but again had no answer for Ryan Church and lost 9-6.
On Thursday, they played a makeup game against the Cardinals and got shut out by Joel Piñeiro and Jason Isringhausen.
On Friday, they were no match for the mighty Marlins.
After pounding the Marlins 13-0 on Saturday, the Mets went into the final game of the season tied with Philadelphia for the division lead. They had Glavine on the mound. All they needed to do was win, and they were guaranteed a playoff.
Glavine lasted one out, gave up seven runs, and that was that.
No. 5: 1951 Dodgers
Yeah, this one’s pretty famous … but I don’t think it was a collapse. The Dodgers were 13 games up on Aug. 11. And they didn’t play that badly — they were 18-12 over their next 30 games, but the Giants (thanks in part, we now know, to an elaborate sign-stealing system) won SIXTEEN IN A ROW and 23 of 26 to pull within six and a half games on Sept. 8.
The Dodgers went 9-11 the rest of the way, which obviously was not ideal, but it should have been good enough to close out with a 6 1/2-game lead. But the Giants won 14 of their last 15 to force the famous playoff, which just might make it into Why We Love Baseball.
In all, the Giants went 36-7 to finish the season.
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OK, if we’re talking PURE collapses, I might not have put the Dodgers in there and might have instead put in the 1964 Phillies or 1999 Reds (an underrated collapse — they were up a game with five left and lost four of those five).
And in some ways, this Red Sox collapse does not compare with any of them because I don’t think even the most passionate Boston sports fan ever thought this was a great team. There was always a sense, even when the Red Sox were playing well, that they were keeping the pitching staff together with spit and duct tape and hope. It isn’t super-surprising to see this team fall off.
BUT … to see this team play the way they have played in July … well, you wouldn’t expect that of any team not playing the overture from the opera “Carmen.”
Should we include the lowlights for posterity? Let’s start on July 11, the day after the Red Sox stole a split in a four-game series with the Yankees.
July 11 (Rays win 10-5): This was a fairly routine loss; the Red Sox got some hitting but couldn’t do anything about Tampa Bay’s Yandy Diaz.
July 12 (Rays win 3-2): This was anything but routine. Chris Sale made his first start of the season and was quite good for his five innings, allowing just three hits and striking out five. And the Boston lineup, after getting shut down by Corey Kluber for four innings, scored two in the fifth and seemed to be in good shape.
Then came the play that probably foreshadows everything about to come — with the Red Sox still up 2-1 in the sixth, Taylor Walls hit a line drive back at reliever Matt Strahm, who turned his back to the ball. It bounced off his left wrist. One of the weirdest parts of this play was the way Strahm’s glove came flying off — it looked a bit like those comic strips of Charlie Brown losing all his clothes when a line drive gets hit at him.
Strahm picked up the ball and threw off-balance to first — it had absolutely no chance of getting even close to the bag. But, in this case, it was even worse because the Red Sox had decided to start Franchy Cordero at first. We’ll come back to this theme repeatedly over the next couple of weeks.
Cordero went racing after the ball, and the tying run scored. Then Cordero, for reasons only clear in his mind, decided to wing the ball home, even though nobody was trying to score and catcher Christian Vasquez wasn’t even looking his way. The ball bounced away and what ended up being the winning run scored.
Blech. Away we go.
July 13 (Rays win 4-1): Boston hitters couldn’t touch Shane McLanahan — no shame there — but this loss clinched a series loss. In 10 series against the AL East, the Red Sox were 0-9-1 (the one split being that one against the Yankees).
July 14 (Rays win 5-4): The Red Sox took a 3-0 lead into the seventh but then their starter — the marvelously named Kutter Crawford, who had been pitching well — lost his stuff and gave up three consecutive hits to start the inning. John Schreiber came in and give up three more hits and hit a batter as the Rays scored five runs and Boston lost its fourth straight game and their eighth of 10.
July 16 (Yankees win 14-1): The Red Sox absolutely stole one from the Yankees the night before … so the Yankees offered a little payback. Aaron Judge hit two home runs. Matt Carpenter hit two home runs.
And the hits just kept on coming.
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July 17 (Yankees win 13-2): Whee! Now it was all beginning to fall apart. Matt Carpenter continued to be Babe Ruth, with three more RBIs. Chris Sale broke his left pinkie finger. Gerrit Cole brushed back Rafael Devers, who had the gall to hit two home runs off Cole, and then promptly struck him out. The Red Sox entered the All-Star break with their playoff percentage less than half of what it was just two weeks earlier.
Now, the real fun was about to begin.
July 22 (Jays win 28-5): We spent a lot of time on the PosCast this week talking about Ramel Tapia’s inside-the-park grand slam. One thing we didn’t talk about was this: For years and years, the Kansas City Royals used to have something that I believe was called the “Sonic Slam Inning.” Maybe they still have it. Maybe other teams have it too.
The idea was that if a Royals player hit a home run during the Sonic Slam Inning, whatever inning it happened to be that night, some lucky fan would win whatever the jackpot total happened to be. If I remember right, the jackpot went up $100 every time someone didn’t win, so it was sometimes a pretty hefty prize — it could get up to a few thousand dollars.
BUT — and I used to kid announcer Ryan Lefebvre about the way he had to say this night after night — if a Royal hit “a grand slam out of the park,” during the Sonic Slam inning, then a lucky fan could win a huge sum of money, something like $25,000 or $50,000.
It was the “out of the park,” part that cracked me up. I mean, the odds of a Royals player hitting a grand slam during that inning were pretty slim. But the odds of a Royals player hitting an inside-the-park grand slam had to be much slimmer, right? I don’t believe a single Royals player has ever hit one.
When I asked Ryan about it — I believe I’m remembering this right — he told me something really interesting. He said it had something to do with insurance. Like Sonic could get insurance on an outside-the-park home run because that’s a simple thing to calculate: Either the ball goes over the fence or it doesn’t.
But an inside-the-park home run will, almost always, be a judgment call. Was it really an error? What sort of goofiness caused it to happen? The insurance company — and, I assume, Sonic — just didn’t want to get into all that mess, even if the odds of it happening were astronomically low.
None of it made complete sense to me until Tapia hit that ball in Boston. Tapia made that “Damn! A pop up!” face, threw down his bat and began the obligatory third-out jog to first base.
Only, Red Sox centerfielder Jarren Duran never saw it. He didn’t make the “OH MY GOSH I DO NOT SEE THE BALL IT MIGHT COME DOWN AND HIT ME IN THE HEAD I AM VERY SCARED RIGHT NOW” gestures that Christian Arroyo had made on a Joey Gallo fly ball against the Yankees several days earlier. In fact, Duran jogged in and looked only vaguely confused by the situation.
The ball landed at the base of the wall, some 30 or 40 feet behind him.
And then, the strangest thing happened: Duran didn’t even go after the ball. I guess his later explanation was that he saw Alex Verdugo charging over from left field and he didn’t want to get in the way, which doesn’t sound like the most compelling reason I’ve ever heard, but, OK, he said it and the judges will allow it.
The one thing we can’t allow, however, is that he didn’t even make the SLIGHTEST EFFORT to go after the ball. Like, isn’t there an involuntary instinct that kicks in when you see a baseball bouncing behind you? I could more readily embrace his story if he ran two or three frantic steps toward the ball and then thought, “Oh, wait, Verdugo’s there, I’m going to stop.”
But no, he just looked at the ball at the base of the wall like it had been thrown in from the stands or something and jogged back to his position and then watched Tapia sprinted madly around the bases.
Could you imagine Sonic paying someone $50K for THAT MESS?
July 23 (Jays win 4-1): Fortunately, a large number of Boston fans had traveled to Cooperstown to see David Ortiz go into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and so were not at Fenway to watch the Red Sox lose for the eighth time in nine games. Also, Devers went on the Injured List.
July 24 (Jays win 8-4): The Red Sox committed three errors in this stinker, but what’s really fun is that one of the worst defensive innings in recent memory only included one of them. The Jays led 6-2 with runners on second and third in the fifth. Danny Jansen hit a ground ball to third. Boston third baseman Jeter Downs — which sounds much more like a Yankees-owned racetrack than a person — threw home and plunked Matt Chapman in the back.
That was called a “fielder’s choice,” which is fair — it was Downs’ choice apparently to throw the ball directly into Chapman’s back.
George Springer then hit another ground ball to Downs. He bobbled it twice and then tried to get the lead runner at second base — but his throw was too late. That was the error.
And finally, the best of all, Vlad Guerrero Jr. topped a ball toward first. Red Sox pitcher Hirokazu Sawamura seemed to have a play on it, but the ball slipped past him and into the glove of, yes, first baseman Franchy Cordero. Sawamura sprinted to the bag, Cordero flipped the ball to Sawamura, who then reached for the bag … only to find that he had actually not run anywhere near it. He comically stomped at the dirt around the bag, as if trying to step on a fast-moving ant.
“The brand of baseball we’re playing,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said, “is awful.”
July 26 (Guardians win 8-3): David Ortiz showed up for this one and pronounced himself a good luck charm. Alas, he was not. I suppose the lowlight came when Cleveland’s Josh Naylor sort of blooped a ball up the middle with the bases loaded. Boston’s Yolmer Sánchez fielded it cleanly and decided this was a good time for a behind-the-back throw to second base.
Now, look, I’m not one of these people who complains when players showboat a little bit. The game is supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to be — at least a little bit — about self-expression. But, seriously, if you’re going to try something showy and fancy when your team is playing legendarily bad baseball, make sure it lands.
Sánchez’s throw landed all right … on the ground. It was wild. Two runs scored.
Cora insisted that Sanchez was actually not showboating, that because of where his body was in relation to the bag, the behind-the-back throw was his only play. Alex Cora knows about 5 billion times more about infield play than I do, so, OK, we’ll allow it with the noted objection: It sure didn’t look that way.
July 27 (Guardians win 7-6): The one had a little bit of everything. A blown lead. A ninth-inning home run by Naylor off Tanner Houck that clinched the loss. It was just bad all around. And it dropped Boston a game below .500.
Plus there were three — THREE — Franchy Cordero errors.
Franchy Cordero is quite an astonishing player. He signed with the Padres as an ultra-gifted 17-year-old shortstop out of the Dominican Republic, but then he made so many errors — 126 of them in 165 games, that’s a real stat — that they put him in centerfield and hoped for the best.
Some scouts and analysts fell in love with him because his tools are off-the-charts awesome. It’s very easy to fall in love with tools. Franchy was, at least at the start, one of the fastest players in organized baseball, with sprint speeds comparable to Byron Buxton and Billy Hamilton. On top of that, he also had stunning power when he made contact.
He could hit like Mays, and run like Hayes.
In 2017, as a 22-year old in Class AAA, a lot of it came together. He hit .326 and slugged .603 with 17 home runs and an incredible 18 triples in 93 games.
His body began to change after that — he began as a lithe, 175-pound athlete who could fly; he aged into a 6-3, 226-pound behemoth who, at least theoretically, can pound baseballs.
But here’s the thing: In 212 big-league games for three different clubs, he’s hitting .221/.289/.375 — an 80 OPS+. He’s hitting almost exactly that for the Red Sox this season too.
And at the same time, even with his great speed, it seems that he cannot play any position on the field at a major league level. The Red Sox seem insistent on continuing to put him at first base, which might be his worst position. Truly, he just might be the worst defensive first baseman in the modern history of baseball.
What I’m saying is: I just don’t get Franchy Cordero.
The Red Sox won on Thursday to get back to .500, but the season is almost certainly lost now. FanGraphs puts their playoff hopes at 26 percent, which actually seems generous. But you never know. The Red Sox clearly forgot how to play baseball. Maybe, just as suddenly, they’ll remember.