BOSTON -- Jeter Downs had set his feet a few steps behind third base and was awaiting a routine grounder that he could relay to second for a double play when the ball took an awkward bounce off the bag and caromed toward the wall in foul territory. For a few moments, he didn’t seem to have any idea what had happened to it.
Four batters and two outs later, Cavan Biggio hit a ball up the middle that Downs stopped short of, allowing it to roll into left field, where Franchy Cordero flubbed the pickup. Two batters after that, new menace Raimel Tapia cleared the bases with a triple to the warning track in right-center field.
Before they knew it, the Red Sox were down by five runs in the first inning, having allowed all nine Blue Jays hitters a chance in the batter’s box. It was that kind of day for Boston, with fielders gift-wrapping runs to a Toronto team that proved all weekend it didn’t need any help scoring.
With every mistake came a loud chorus of boos from the 34,404 fans in attendance at Fenway Park, who watched the Red Sox (48-48) unravel in an 8-4 loss on Sunday afternoon, their fifth in a row (which is tied for their longest skid of the season). Their first series out of the All-Star break went nowhere near as intended, as they were swept by the Blue Jays (53-43) at home for the first time since June 2015.
“The brand of baseball we’re playing is awful,” said manager Alex Cora. “We’re not catching the ball, we’re not putting [together] good at-bats, we’re not throwing strikes -- it’s bad. It’s really bad right now. But we’re talented and, you know, we can turn it around quick.”
That didn’t change after the bullpen took over in the fifth, as Downs hit Matt Chapman in the back on a fielder’s choice throw to home plate and then right-hander Hirokazu Sawamura missed the first-base bag while receiving a relay toss on an infield single, allowing the Blue Jays’ final three runs.
While the Red Sox had players suiting up out of position -- including Downs (primarily a shortstop) and Cordero (a first baseman) -- due to the rash of injuries that have befallen the roster, Cora would not let that be an excuse.
“Yeah, we’ve got moving parts, but you’ve got to slow it down,” he said. “Catch the ball. Throw to the right base. Don’t panic out there. It seems like right now the game speeds up at one point, and it looks horrible.”
Amid those defensive miscues, shortstop Xander Bogaerts was cleaning up messes left and right, showing off his excellent glove. But with rumors swirling around his future ahead of the Aug. 2 Trade Deadline, it’s unclear how much longer he might be anchoring the infield -- and the team -- in Boston.
The Red Sox have another big series coming up on Monday against the Guardians, who hold a one-game advantage over them in the chase for an American League Wild Card spot. While Boston swept a three-game set in Cleveland in late June, that capped a stretch in which the club posted an MLB-best 19-4 record from the start of the month.
The Red Sox have been an entirely different team since then, going 6-17 in their last 23 games. Against Toronto, they dropped to an 0-11-1 record in series against the AL East and were swept for the second time in two weeks, following a four-game undoing against the Rays from July 11-14 in St. Petersburg.
After Saturday’s 4-1 loss, Bogaerts downplayed the struggles the Red Sox have had within their division.
“It’s tough to lose against the AL East, but in the end, you’re just trying to get to the playoffs,” he said. “I know a lot of people make a big deal about it, but if you can get into the Wild Card as the last seed, I mean, you still have a chance. … What’s all at stake in the postseason, it’s completely different.
“Do you want to beat the division? Yeah. But you just want to get in. I mean, we’re beating the other teams.”
At this rate, the Red Sox are going to have to.