Red Sox Craig Kimbrel Not Only One To Blame For Loss
The knives may have been out for Boston Red Sox Craig Kimbrel, after the tragic loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, but there was enough blame to go around.
Before Kimbrel needs to start worrying about walking into Fenway Park like as if he’s Julius Caesar walking into the great hall near the Theatre of Pompey, let’s talk to the conspiring senators of Red Sox Nation for a second.
Yes, the Red Sox had a one-run lead heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, which is when Kimbrel’s supposed to close the door on opposing teams, whether home or away. Yes, in the span of five batters, that lead not only evaporated, it became a walk-off hit for the Blue Jays. Yes, he gave up a single by Justin Smoak to put the tying run on base. Yes, a pinch-runner named Ezequiel Carrera was able to get to third base all in one play. Yes, Kimbrel then gave up a double to Russell Martin, a man who was barely hitting .200 a few days ago, which cashed in Carrera and tied the game. Yes, after a coach’s visit to the mound, Kimbrel then uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Martin to move to third, allowing an infield single by Devon Travis to score the fatal RBI that cost the Red Sox the game, one that looked fated for Boston to win.
There’s the evidence for the prosecution, and it doesn’t look good.
Yet, that last frame of the game had a number of miscues, not just from Kimbrel. Remember, Kimbrel had gotten big hitter Edwin Encarnacion to pop out and he also struck out hot bat Michael Saunders, making the Red Sox one out away from victory. A throwing error by youngster-turned-starter Christian Vazquez, while trying to throw out Carrera stealing second was the reason why the Blue Jays had a runner at third base in the first place. The only reason why Martin made it to third base as well was because Vazquez lost the ‘wild pitch’ in his feet, allowing Martin to read the play and make his way to third base easily. And, Travis’ hit was a tough play for Red Sox third baseman Travis Shaw to make, but the grounder was one that he could have made a better throw for or been scooped by Hanley Ramirez at first a bit better. The combination led to the demise of the Red Sox.
Let’s also not forget what happened before we even got to the ninth inning.
If one would start at the beginning of the game and watch the first 5.5 innings, the consensus would be that Red Sox starter Rick Porcello won the pitcher’s duel with Blue Jays ace Marcus Stroman. Boston was winning 7-3 in the bottom of the sixth inning and looked to have all of the momentum. Porcello had a four-run lead to work with and he had been solid for most of this season, which suggested that the Red Sox had this game in the bag. Then, Martin reached into that bag and stole the game back into open territory, drilling a solo home run which brought the fans back into it. A 93-mph beachball of a pitch, after having him 0-2 in the count with two outs. Porcello and the Red Sox could have done without that.
Ramirez got that run back in the top of the seventh, but the belief was floating around in the stands of the Rogers Centre that the Blue Jays could mount a comeback. It didn’t take long for it to arise, either. The fans went ballistic when Martin came back up to the plate in the eighth inning and Junichi Tazawa didn’t look like he could get even close to getting a batter out. Martin didn’t disappoint, as he smacked a single to right field that scored a run and moved the other baserunners around the diamond. A double by the Blue Jays’ Travis scored another run, and Tazawa’s own wild pitch allowed Martin to score to make it a one-run game.
That wild pitch allowed Travis to move to third, primed for the Jose Bautista single off of Kimbrel, who was forced to enter the game early because of Tazawa’s inability to stop the onslaught. He may have given up the tying run twice in the same game, but Kimbrel’s appearance in the eighth alone was a signal to Red Sox fans everywhere that it wasn’t looking good before that.
And, so not to leave anyone out of this debacle, Tommy Layne‘s introduction to the game didn’t help matters. Matt Barnes was able to wipe up for Porcello to finish the bottom of the seventh inning, but Layne was brought in to start the eighth frame of this hellish nightmare and, on his second pitch, hit Saunders leading off. The umpire’s call that was upheld through video replay of Smoak’s hit being not a force play out didn’t help, either; it allowed Saunders to stay at second, awaiting that fateful moment when Tazawa was brought in to relieve Layne with Martin as his first batter.
John Farrell, the Red Sox manager, put in Layne and Tazawa in the eighth inning when normally Koji Uehara owns the responsibility of that frame. Yet, the former closer had just blown the save the day before against the very same Blue Jays, allowing a single and a home run to the first two batters he saw. If Koji would have held the Blue Jays off of the scoreboard the day before, would Tazawa or Layne have gotten the call yesterday?
That’s a lot of ‘what ifs’ to think about, but one thing remains clear: there was also a lot of blame to go around. Between fielding errors, pitching errors, and just plain ol’ errors in judgement, the Red Sox were able to score nine runs and still lose the game. To blame all of that on one pitcher, whether Kimbrel is supposed to be this dominant closer or not, would be wrong. If he would have closed out the bottom of the ninth in scoreless fashion, it would also have been wrong to give the credit of victory to him as well. That’s why closers earn saves, not wins (usually). The team wins and loses as one unit. They play nine innings, not just one, where a great deal is decided in each half of a frame.
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Besides, the lead was 7-3 in the sixth, not the ninth. A great deal of ineptitude happened before Kimbrel’s blunder. He screwed up, but so did the other Red Sox players, both pitchers and positional players. So, why all the long-knives talk? Well, it’s Boston: someone’s gotta be blamed, and we don’t have Bill Buckner to explain yesterday’s loss to us.