OAKLAND -- It was a harmless flyball to the warning track in right-center, struck in between two elite outfielders who both won Gold Gloves last season for their excellence. Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. moved toward it. Mookie Betts did the same. They both looked at the baseball, but neither tried to catch it.
It dropped between them, then plopped onto the dirt and landed over the wall for a two-run, ground-rule double by Stephen Piscotty. It was a costly moment in what wound up a 7-3 loss for the Red Sox, who are off to a 2-6 start.
If anything, the play was symbolic of a highly-frustrating road trip to open the season for the defending World Series champion Red Sox, in which seemingly anything can go wrong. Two outfielders who have filled highlight reels for several seasons made it onto a blooper reel this time. According to Statcast, Bradley had a 99 percent catch probability on the play. Betts had a 95 percent probability.
It was that kind of day. It has been that kind of week.
“It’s on me,” said Bradley. “It’s a play that has got to be made. I’m the leader out there. The play has to be made. It’s a catchable ball. I’ve got to take control.”
Betts also took accountability.
“Oh, one of us should have caught it,” Betts said. “Just one of those things, right dead in the middle. One of us should have talked for sure. I mean, I think for any outfield, that ball is catchable. It’s just one of those things, it happened. There’s nothing you can do about it. Just know going forward that somebody needs to say something.”
Red Sox manager Alex Cora didn’t point fingers at either outfielder, but he noted communication needs to improve and the team has to get back to paying attention to detail and communicating as they did throughout the World Series championship season of a year ago.
“The whole game, it was an issue,” Cora said. “I pay attention to details. I love paying attention to details, and that’s something I took pride in last year. And right now, we’re not paying attention to details.
“So, that’s on us. That’s on me. That’s on the staff. I know they have made mistakes. But at the same time, I think it gets to a point that we have to keep teaching the game and putting them in spots that they’re going to take advantage of certain situations.”
In the ninth, with the Sox trailing, 7-3, Betts was involved in another uncharacteristic mental lapse.
After leading off the inning with a walk, Betts tried to go first to third on a single up the middle by Andrew Benintendi.
There were two things wrong with that decision. The first is that when you trail by three runs, you never want to run into the first out of the inning at third base. The second is that, by now, all Red Sox players should know not to run on Laureano, who charged the single by Benintendi and fired on the run as he threw to third to nail Betts. It was Laureano’s third assist of the four-game series.
“The three plays were bang-bang plays, but that one right there can’t happen,” said Cora. “And he knows it. He came up to me, and for how great of a player he is, he makes mistakes and he owned it. He came up to me like, ‘That’s my fault.”’
The fact that players are trying to do too much is probably natural given the way the season has started, particularly given the expectations.
“Yeah, I should have known,” said Betts. “He’s pretty much thrown everybody out. That’s what my instincts told me to do and I should have let myself know before anything even happened that my run meant nothing. I mean, yeah, he’s obviously a great thrower and everything but we don’t want to play passive either. You have to make him make those plays and he made them all. Tip your cap. He did an excellent job.”
The Red Sox, meanwhile, are out of sorts, and their manager knows it. This beginning is the polar opposite of 2018, when Cora’s team roared to a 17-2 start.
“You didn’t see that last year, but last year was last year,” Cora said. “We didn’t play well in Seattle; we didn’t play well here. Now we go to Arizona. It’s a three-game series. We have to play better. That’s the bottom line.
“Like I said, I take pride in that stuff. Details. And details win ballgames. And for four games, [the Athletics] did a lot of good things out there. A lot of good things. They threw to the right bag. They played good defense. They ran the bases. They grind out at-bats. That was a reflection of who we were last year. I know we can get to that level, but we’ve got to start getting at it.”