It takes a lot for a baseball team mired in a 10-game losing streak to embarrass itself beyond the already obvious. But that’s exactly what the Boston Red Sox did on Sunday, when the team’s dugout instigated a fight because the Tampa Bay Rays’ Yunel Escobar stole a base.

Yes, a fight over a stolen base.

That’s what the team that enjoys bandying about the “Boston Strong” rallying cry has come to; and less than two months into the season, the Red Sox are already becoming tiresome.

It’s understandable that a team with a $162 million payroll like the Red Sox would be on the edge when they are about to be swept by a team with a $77 million payroll like the Rays. But what Boston decided to do in Tampa Bay on Sunday crossed over a line ”“ a line crossed far too often by the shameless, irritable, thin-skinned players who abound in Major League Baseball today.

Escobar had just doubled in the seventh inning to give the Rays an 8-3 lead. Up by five runs, Escobar then stole third base to move within 90 feet of home plate with two outs.

At most times, stealing a base while up by five runs in a game wouldn’t be given a second thought by anyone. A five-run lead, after all, is nothing, especially at Tampa’s bandbox of a ballpark. The steal was the kind of heads-up play to be applauded, but in response, the Red Sox’ defense showed careless play that shouldn’t be tolerated at the major league level.

That, of course, isn’t the way it was taken by the players in the Boston dugout, who immediately began to snipe at Escobar. Stealing a base with a five-run lead, it seems, isn’t kosher in baseball, at least according to the Red Sox.

The sniping was led by a player who isn’t widely known ”“ these kinds of things usually are ”“ in backup catcher David Ross. That drew a response from the always-excitable Escobar, which in turn led to Boston’s Jonny Gomes running all the way in from his position in left field, pushing Escobar from behind and setting off a mini-melee that caused three players to be ejected.

It was another “height of all stupidity” moment for modern baseball, a sport which now seems full of drama kings protecting the so-called unwritten rules of baseball ”“ a weird subculture of codes players must honor or risk retaliation from the other team. In a game where that retaliation can sometimes mean taking a 90-plus mile an hour pitch to the body, it’s an anachronism, and these rules should be shredded for the good of the game.

Stealing a base with a minor lead has never and will never be part of those rules, though, something many Red Sox players admitted afterwards. It was the frustration of a season quickly going down the drain that simply boiled over.

But Gomes seemed intent on furthering a line of events patently untrue:

“I’m not concerned about the bag at all,” Gomes told the media after the game. “Yelling at my dugout, pointing at my dugout and taking your helmet off and basically challenging our dugout, I have a problem with that.”

Of course, the entire yelling incident was instigated by a Red Sox player, Ross, who couldn’t even be bothered to confront Escobar on the field. Worst of all, this backup catcher insisted he wasn’t the chief instigator behind the incident, despite television cameras clearly showing otherwise.

As Rays manager Joe Maddon correctly pointed out in his own postgame comments, the Red Sox had done something similar last year, when Jacoby Ellsbury stole a base with Boston leading 8-2 in the eighth inning. The Rays, like any group of baseball players with respect for the game and their opponents, said not one word of protest at the time.

Apparently, when the Red Sox are the team leading by five or more runs late, it’s fine to steal bases. But when they’re losing, baseball should be played by entirely different rules, made-up rules, and everyone else must abide or risk being involved in a fight.

Losing with any kind of grace is something the Boston professional sports franchises have long thrown out the window. We only have to look back to this year’s AFC championship game, when Patriots coach Bill Belichick ”“ long the prime example of a poor loser ”“ decided to take his frustration out on a former Patriots player, claiming that Broncos reliever Wes Welker had intentionally injured the Pat’s Aqib Talib on a play the NFL ruled to be entirely legal both during and after the game.

It didn’t matter if the Broncos had completely outclassed the Patriots all over the field for 60 minutes. Excuses needed to be made, baseless accusations leveled, face had to be saved at any cost.

Or we can look back even more recently to just two weeks ago, when the Bruins’ Milan Lucic decided to take it upon himself to ruin the tradition of the playoff handshake line. The Bruins had just lost game seven to the rival Montreal Canadiens, after all, and the respect that is the hallmark of the handshake line ”“ something every NHL hockey player takes with deadly seriousness, as a badge of honor and a show of sportsmanship ”“ clearly didn’t apply to Lucic, who threatened several Montreal players with expletives and bodily harm because they had the gall to actually beat the Bruins.

Seemingly, the Red Sox have now unfortunately taken on this kind of approach to defeat. But perhaps they’ll get the hang of being a graceful loser ”“ after all, it looks like they’ll be getting plenty of practice this summer.

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Today’s editorial was written by Sports Writer Cameron Dunbar on behalf of the Journal Tribune Editorial Board. Questions? Comments? Contact Managing Editor Kristen Schulze Muszynski by calling 282-1535, ext. 322, or via email at [email protected]