- Gordon Edes, Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- The last time the Boston Red Sox were swept by the New York Yankees in Fenway Park, a five-game affair in August 2006, Manny Ramirez evidently couldn’t bear the sight, taking himself out of the last game with a hamstring cramp even though he had worn out the Bombers all series. The injury became a symbol of surrender, as Ramirez checked out, playing only 13 games the rest of the season while his bosses fumed and the team stumbled, the Sox missing the playoffs while the Yanks coasted to a division title.
After the Yankees completed their three-game sweep of the Red Sox on Sunday night with an 8-5 victory in a game in which they scored the first eight runs, there also was an unhappy Ramirez and fuming (in private) bosses, but no white flags were spotted, and this being four days into May, no playoff spots were close to being decided.
Unlike his namesake, Hanley Ramirez stuck this one out to the end, raging at the night after suffering the indignity of Adam Warren hitting him with a fastball in the sixth inning, but refrained from further comment by walking out of the Sox clubhouse with a wafer cone planted in his mouth. Whether there was still ice cream to be digested was a secret Ramirez kept to himself.
“Bro, it was 95 in the ribs,” said teammate David Ortiz, who absolved Warren of intent but empathized with Ramirez’s reaction. “It hurts.”
Just as it stings the Sox to be losing like clockwork to the Bombers in Fenway Park, which the team markets as “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark” but never intended for the Yankees to feel this much at home when they are here. Since the start of the 2014 season, the Yanks have won their past four series at Fenway, going 9-3 in that span. Alex Rodriguez beat them with a historic home run Friday night, they edged Wade Miley Saturday afternoon, then applied a beatdown to Joe Kelly and reliever Craig Breslow, building an 8-0 lead before the Sox tried to climb back.
“It seems like we've been playing better against them in New York,” said Ortiz, who came to the plate as the potential winning run but lined out to center field with the bases loaded against former Sox lefty Andrew Miller, who earned his 10th save. “We have to find a way to play better against them here.”
The Sox have to find a way to play better against everybody. They’ve lost 10 of their past 15 and for the first time this season are below .500, with a record of 12-13. They are four games behind the surprising Yankees, who were written off when they lost six of their first nine games, including two of three to the Sox, but have gone 13-3 since.
And the Sox have a losing record at home (6-7), where they failed to sell out two of the three games they played this weekend, which leaves CEO Larry Lucchino feeling like he took one in the ribs too. With the Bruins and Celtics both done for the season and the Patriots off for the summer, the Sox face little competition for the sporting dollar. But it appears they have yet to win over the skeptics unconvinced that this team is built to win, despite the early-season bursts of splendor from Mookie Betts and long-ball prowess of Ramirez.
The grounds for unbelief are obvious: Just when you are moved to have a little faith -- Sox starters went six innings or more in their previous three starts, allowing a total of six earned runs in 20 innings (2.70) -- Joe Kelly gets knocked out before the fifth inning, the sixth time that has happened to a Sox starter this season.
“I made some bad pitches,” said Kelly, lamenting the first-inning slider that Mark Teixeira hit over the Monster in the first and the fastballs that showed a distressing tendency to leak back over the plate.
As long as the bad pitches continue to outnumber the good, the jury will remain out on this team. Kelly was not alone in his woes. Craig Breslow faced three batters Sunday and went single, single, three-run home run (Brett Gardner). Reliever Junichi Tazawa was the loser Friday when A-Rod took him over the fence. Chris Young hit a home run off reliever Alexi Ogando for an insurance run Saturday.
You get swept by the Yankees, every blemish shows. Pablo Sandoval swung at a 3-and-0 pitch with the Sox down by five with two on in the fourth and grounded out weakly to short. "We're having a tough time scoring runs,” manager John Farrell said, defending the dubious stratagem. “As good as he's swinging the bat, give him the green light.”
Daniel Nava is hitless in his past 18 at-bats and one for his last 27. He also failed to call Dustin Pedroia off a pop fly that should have been caught, instead falling in for a single by Carlos Beltran. Ramirez took his time running down a hit by Gardner on Saturday, his lack of urgency leading to a tag play at third in which Sandoval was shaken up. Tazawa threw a 3-and-0 cookie to A-Rod on Friday when he had to have known Rodriguez would be swinging.
“But I felt we showed tremendous fight, tremendous comeback,” Farrell said of Sunday's effort. “We scored five in the bottom of the inning after we're down 8-0, right down to the final swing of the night.”
No one copped a hamstring pull, true. But unless the Sox reverse their current trend -- and they have plenty of time to do so -- it will remain an open question whether there will be a fight to be waged come October.
The Red Sox have time to turn things around, but there's plenty of room for improvement.