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The loss of Trevor Story to a season-ending shoulder injury has impacted the Red Sox’s infield defense, which struggled in a three-game sweep against the Baltimore Orioles. Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

BOSTON — The biggest damage Thursday night for the Boston Red Sox came in the top of the 10th inning. That’s when the Baltimore Orioles erupted for a half-dozen runs, no easy feat in extra innings, and hung a 9-4 loss on the Red Sox.

But it didn’t have to be that way.

The real trouble was in the eighth inning, with the Red Sox clinging to a 2-1 lead and just six outs remaining. That’s when the night first unraveled for the Red Sox.

First, Pablo Reyes botched a grounder hit directly at him by rookie Jackson Holliday. Next came a bungled double play, when shortstop du jour David Hamilton failed to step on the bag on a double-play feed from second baseman Ceddanne Rafaela.

The inning should have been over. Instead, the Orioles were given a gift, and they took full advantage, as Anthony Santander drilled a two-run homer to give Baltimore a 3-2 lead.

“I just got to the bag and (Rafaela) was pretty close to it, so I just assumed he would get there himself (for the force play),” recounted Hamilton. “But that’s wrong of me to assume that. I’ve got to be there and be ready to turn the play. Not much else to say.”


Not much else to say, indeed. Two weeks into the season, this has become an alarmingly frequent habit of the Red Sox, who keep finding inventive ways to give opponents extra chances and runs.

It happened in Anaheim, when Rafael Devers failed to make a play, allowing two unearned runs to score in a 2-1 loss. And on the topic of unearned runs, the Red Sox now lead MLB in that category with 16 in just 13 games.

If averaging more than an unearned run per game sounds like a bad idea, that’s because it most assuredly is. Many teams in baseball have just a handful; the next worst team after the Red Sox is Miami, with 13.

The Red Sox were in position to take two of three from the Orioles but instead were swept, with late-inning leads that couldn’t be preserved. In each of the three losses, the Red Sox allowed at least one unearned run; in two of the three, they had multiple unearned runs.

It’s easy, if overly simplistic, to blame this on the absence of Trevor Story, and without question, his defense will be sorely missed. But the problems run deeper than that. There are errors coming from all over the infield.

The Red Sox don’t have the talent to compete with the best teams in the American League. They lack an obvious No. 1 starter, the bottom half of the lineup appears toothless, and closer Kenley Jansen is, for now at least, an adventure.


But by committing errors at an alarming rate, the Red Sox are increasing the degree of difficulty for themselves.

“You can’t give big league teams (more than) 27 outs, and we’ve been doing that lately,” said Manager Alex Cora. “When that happens, you turn the lineup over. You look up, and they’ve got six at-bats. And when those big guys have six opportunities in a game, they’re going to cash in. And they did.”

In a sense, the Red Sox are reliving the 2023 season, which is never a good idea. Last year, the Red Sox stuck with Kiké Hernandez at short, hopeful that the throwing errors would eventually cease. They didn’t, and the Sox buried themselves early in the season.

Suspect infield defense is never a good thing, but for a pitching staff that doesn’t feature much swing-and-miss and instead allows regular contract, the failure to turns balls in play into outs is fatal.

“We’re not converting outs and that’s something we’ve been talking about the whole time,” acknowledged Cora. “We have to step up. Whoever’s playing, they’re capable. They showed it in camp. We played some clean baseball. Now, obviously, the lights and the third deck come into play and every game matters, every inning matters. We just have to slow the game down and make plays.

“It’s not going to be from a lack of trying, a lack of effort. We’re going to keep doing the things we preached in spring training. You see it with the things that we do pregame and all that – infield, outfield, throwing to the bases, using the machines…Everything that we adjusted to get to the point where we were feeling really good about our defense, we’re going to keep doing. We’re not going to stop. It’s just a matter of helping them to slow down the game. This will turnaround.”


That sounds more like a hope rather than a strategy. The fact is, without Story, the Red Sox lack an experienced, accomplished major league-tested shortstop. And no amount of platooning or mixing-and-matching is going to change that.

Just as teams sometimes collectively slump at the plate, it now appears that the team’s poor fielding is similarly contagious.

“It feels that way,” agreed Cora. “And it started a while ago. We had some good games, but lately…It’s been routine plays, too. I always say the metrics are the metrics, but the routine plays, we have to turn into outs. Yeah, we can talk about range and your first step, arm strength and all that. But out conversion, at this level, is a must. We’ve been missing a lot of routine plays the last five or six games and we’ve been paying the price.”

In the won-loss column, where it matters most.

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