NEW YORK -- For at least a moment, for at least one night, things seemed to be coming together for the Boston Red Sox. With postseason hero Nathan Eovaldi rolling and the offense tallying three runs in the first two innings, the Red Sox looked more like the world champions crowned just 171 days ago. They looked like a team beginning to emerge out of their early-season struggles.
But that hasn't been the story of the 2019 Boston Red Sox. The 2019 Boston Red Sox rank 18th in baseball in total offense. The 2019 Boston Red Sox rank 30th in baseball in team ERA. The back end of the bullpen has been the one area where they could depend on consistency. Relievers Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes have been among the team's few bright spots in the early weeks of the season, giving up just a run each in 14 combined innings going into Wednesday's game.
For the 2019 Boston Red Sox, it only makes sense on a night when the offense and starting pitching showed flashes that the bullpen fell short of executing to preserve the victory, falling 5-3 to the rival New York Yankees, who celebrated with a fog machine in their clubhouse, an act reserved for big victories.
"Right now, the results aren't there," manager Alex Cora said. "Like I've said all along, we have to get better. Today, we did a good job early in the game offensively, but we didn't finish them off and [Yankees starter J.A. Happ] was able to go deep into the game. We have to get better in all aspects."
This has been the story of the 2019 Boston Red Sox. At least so far.
The Yankees' comeback occurred in the seventh inning, with Eovaldi fresh out of the game. Cora called upon reliever Brandon Workman, who promptly allowed a Clint Frazier single before walking Mike Tauchman, striking out Gio Urshela and tossing another four balls to Austin Romine, loading the bases.
"We were in a position to win one today," Workman said. "I came in and loaded the bases, got one out, so it's definitely difficult to swallow that."
Brasier came coasting out of the Red Sox bullpen, quickly working the count to 0-2 on Brett Gardner. In an attempt to get the Yankees outfielder to chase strike three, Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez called for a fastball up. The 96.7 mph fastball didn't stay up enough, crossing the heart of the plate, and Gardner deposited a screaming liner over the right-field wall.
"We still gotta finish games, and we didn't," Cora said. "It takes everybody to get out of this, and in the seventh inning, too much traffic in that inning. We didn't do a good job."
The go-ahead grand slam from Gardner punctuated an evening that had seemed to be turning in Boston's favor. When Eovaldi left the game after cruising through six innings, allowing three hits, one run, one walk and striking out six, Boston had a 77.7 percent win probability, according to FanGraphs. For a moment, it looked like the Red Sox might escape New York with a two-game series split. Instead, Boston sits alone, at the bottom of the American League East standings, 8½ games behind the first-place Tampa Bay Rays.
"It doesn't matter if we're 8½, 7½, 6½ games back, we gotta play better," Cora said. "We haven't done it consistently."
An off day comes for Boston on Thursday, but the Red Sox's trip down to Tampa will mark a true test for them, whether they can pull themselves out of a start that can only be labeled as the worst possible outcome, on all fronts. After Wednesday's contest, Cora didn't mince words when underscoring the team's urgency to win the next series.
"We have to go down and win the series," Cora said. "You win two out of three or you sweep them. We haven't done it yet, so it would be a good time to do that in Tampa."
But for the Red Sox, to paraphrase Yankees legend Yogi Berra, it's getting late early.