BOSTON, MA: Evan Longoria #3 of the Tampa Bay Rays tags out Jacoby Ellsbury #2 of the Boston Red Sox attempting to steal in the sixth inning at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
It's one thing to lose a big game by one run.
It's another when you lose it ugly. And you've been losing a lot lately.
Saturday afternoon in the fifth inning at Fenway Park, Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury was on second base with two outs, Dustin Pedroia batting. Ellsbury's a fast runner. Pedroia's a good hitter. You do not (as they say) want to take the bat out of Pedroia's hands in that situation.
Nevertheless, Ellsbury took off for third base. Jeff Niemann, who'd been laboring somewhat, stepped off the mound and threw to third base to nail Ellsbury. The play was actually sorta close, but probably not close enough for Ellsbury's boss.
"It’s a situation where he’s probably trying to do too much," Terry Francona said. "It wasn’t necessary. His intentions were good, [but] it was ill-advised. If you’re going to run in that situation, it’s got to be 100 percent. He knows that."
Fair enough. Of course, this probably wasn't Francona's greatest game, either.
Meanwhile, those two bunts Scutaro had with runner on first and second (one in the third inning and one in the seventh) came on orders from Francona. The Sox scored a run on an Ellsbury sacrifice fly in the third inning. But Scutaro bunted the ball too hard in the seventh inning and the runner was thrown out at second.
The bunts seemed odd for two reasons:
1. The Red Sox rarely sacrifice, having done it 20 times all season before today. That's the fewest in baseball. It's pretty much against organizational philosophy to give up an out.
2. Scutaro was 16 of 37 with six extra-base hits and 14 RBIs in the previous 10 games. He would seem to be the exact batter you want up with a runner on second, not somebody who you want to give themselves up.
Just to be clear, conventional sabermetric wisdom doesn't hate the sacrifice with runners on first and second, because you're giving up an out to improve your chance of scoring two runs rather than just one.
That said, even leaving aside Scutaro's recent hot streak, he's a pretty good hitter having a pretty good season. For better or worse, he did enter Saturday with twice as many sacrifices (6) as anyone else on the team. Francona might not like to sacrifice much, but he doesn't seem to mind sacrificing with Scutaro. For better or worse.
Abraham concludes: "You don't go 4-12 in September by accident. These things add up."
They do add up, but you do go 4-12 by accident unless you're a really, truly terrible team. Which the Boston Red Sox are not.
They've been unlucky. They haven't played well. They haven't played smart. Maybe they haven't been managed brilliantly.
All of which can happen to even the best of teams, if not often all at once.
Still, this thing's probably going to come out okay, in which case Ellsbury's baserunning and Scutaro's bunts and all the rest will be quickly forgotten.
Of course, if this thing doesn't come out okay, all of it will be remembered forever.