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The Red Sox are inventing new ways to lose baseball games

BOSTON -- On Thursday, the vibes around the Red Sox were declining. On Friday, they are on life support.

The season has taken an embarrassing turn.

The Red Sox were poised to at least come away from their three-game series against the Orioles with one victory, as they took a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a raw, misty night at Fenway Park against a Baltimore team that didn't have the most life at the plate. All that was needed was some pitching and defense to secure a stabilizing victory ahead of a winnable weekend series against the Angels.

Yet when the eighth inning rolled around, the Red Sox invented a brand new way to lose a baseball game.

It started with a leadoff ground ball to the left side of the infield by Jackson Holliday. Cheating a bit for the lefty to pull, Pablo Reyes had to take a step or two to his right to field the routine grounder. He, however, did not.

It was Reyes' second error of the season, and combined with his strikeout while trying to bunt on Wednesday as well as his .136 batting average, it continued a rough start to the season for the 30-year-old.

Reliever Joely Rodriguez, who got off to a rough start to the year himself, pitched more than well enough to get through this inning, though. After the routine grounder by Holliday wasn't fielded, he caught Gunnar Henderson looking at strike three. He then induced another routine ground ball, this one tailor-made for a double play. Ceddanne Rafaela flipped to David Hamilton, who's playing shortstop in place of the injured Trevor Story, and Hamilton fired on to first for the inning-ending double play.

It was an impressive shutdown inning from Rodriguez. Except, well ... about that double play. Hamilton never touched second base, so Holliday was safe at second and the inning continued.

"Yeah I mean, we always talk about that. Like, you can't give big league teams more than 27 outs, and we've been doing that lately," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said after the game.   

David Hamilton
David Hamilton throws to first base after missing second base on what should have been a double play. Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox / Getty Images

That didn't go down as an error, instead hitting the books as your standard 4-6-3 putout. But it proved to be a tremendously costly bit of bad baseball.

Greg Weissert came in to replace Rodriguez, but on his very first pitch, Anthony Santander sent a drive down the right-field line, depositing his shot into the front row over the short fence near the Pesky Pole, giving the Orioles a stunning 3-2 lead.

The Red Sox showed some signs of life in the bottom of the inning, with Connor Wong hitting an unlikely pinch-hit home run over the Monster to tie the game at 3-3.

Closer Kenley Jansen struck out Holliday with two on and two out in the ninth, giving the Red Sox a chance for a walk-off win. Instead, Reese McGuire struck out looking and got ejected for arguing an obvious strike call, thus forcing Cora to give up the DH and insert Masataka Yoshida into left field, as the Red Sox were dealing with off nights to Rafael Devers and Romy Gonzalez. The inning ended with a Pablo Reyes flyout to left, giving him an 0-for-4 night.

Then came the 10th ... which Henderson began by sending a towering shot over the Monster, scoring the automatic runner and giving Baltimore a 5-3 lead. Isaiah Campbell, fresh off a dreadful outing the night before (four hits, three runs in one inning of work), served up that homer.

He later surrendered a two-out double, threw a wild pitch, walked Ryan Mountcastle, gave up an RBI single to Cedric Mullens, and then gave up a back-breaking three-run home run to Colton Cowser.

The Orioles led 9-3. Fans who stuck it out through the cold and the rain for 10 innings were left with a distinct feeling of vibelessness.

"It was a good game, to be honest with you," Cora said after the game, for some reason. "We used everybody that was available. ... We were running out of players. We did run out of players. It is what it is, you know? It was a tough one. I liked the way we fought. We were there till the end. But obviously, tough series, and now we've gotta turn the page."

The Red Sox, now 7-6 after getting swept in their first series at home, will look to turn that page with the Angels coming to Boston. Considering it was the Red Sox who won two out of three against those same Angels in Anaheim just last weekend, it should present a bounce-back opportunity. Yet Cora stated plainly that such a thing cannot happen until everyone moves past the loss of Story at shortstop.

"I mean, we're not converting outs. And that's something we've been talking about the whole time. We've gotta turn the page with Trevor. You know, he's not gonna be here. That's the bottom line. And we have to step up. Whoever is playing, they're capable," Cora said, stressing that Hamilton is a good defensive player. "They showed it in camp, right? We played some clean baseball. And now obviously the lights and the third deck come into play, and every game matters, every inning matters. We just have to slow the game down and make plays."

The Red Sox now own the distinct honor of leading the league in unearned runs allowed, with 13 in 13 games. Cora said the team has instituted measures to improve that issue, and that the pregame infield-outfield practice will continue. But he also admitted that the defensive slump has at times felt like something contagious spreading through the team.

"It feels that way. And it started a while ago. We had some good games, and lately it's been routine plays, too," Cora said. "We've been missing a lot of routine plays the last five or six games, and we've been paying the price."

Entering this series, the Orioles were likely expected by most observers to win two out of three. The Red Sox then showed a fair amount of fight and spunk, taking a 5-0 lead on Wednesday and getting a pinch-hit, game-tying home run in the bottom of the eighth on Thursday. Yet sloppy defense and poor bullpen performances sunk them on both nights, providing fans and the team itself with back-to-back gut punches.

It'll now be another raw, cold night at Fenway on Friday, and it'll be up to the Red Sox to find a way to generate their own energy. Though the season is still young, a repeat performance of what's been put forth the past two nights could prove to be devastating.

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