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Memorial Day Weekend. Honor our veterans. The beginning of summer. A three-day break. The beaches are open. Temperatures in the 80s. Burgers on the grill. Cold beer in the fridge. How could the Sox screw this up?
But they did in a fashion so unexplainable and surreal that the baseball history buffs will have to scour the Internet to discover when it was this alarming in the past.
If you weren't paying attention, I applaud you. The weekend offered many other diversions. But in case you missed it, the Sox bullpen managed to squander three consecutive late-inning leads against the undermanned Kansas City Royals, who, because of injuries and mediocre starting pitching, look like a shell of the team that won last fall's World Series.
The Sox led 5-1 Friday night - thanks to a grand slam by Melky Cabrera and a solo shot by Todd Frazier - going into the bottom of the sixth and wound up losing 7-5.
Saturday was the monumental meltdown as David Robertson, who hadn't pitched in five days, was summoned by manager Robin Ventura to start the ninth inning with the Sox in command at 7-1. You know, give the guy a little work.
After getting the first out, Robertson and Tommy Kahnle gave up seven runs, six hits, four walks, and a wild pitch as the Royals won 8-7 on a walk-off single by Brett Eibner, who had had a total of seven big league at-bats before his part in the heroics.
Then on Sunday, Chris Sale pitched effectively for seven innings, exiting with a 4-2 lead. Enter Nate Jones, who got the first out in the eighth before Lorenzo Cain homered and Eric Hosmer doubled down the left field line. Two walks and a single later Jones was toast in favor of Matt Albers, who was touched for an infield hit that scored the lead run before Albers walked another hitter and finally retired the side as the Royals took a 5-4 lead.
Royals closer Wade Davis gave a brilliant example for the Sox relievers, retiring the side in the ninth on a flyout, groundout and strikeout. I hope the fellas were taking notes.
So here are the ugly facts. The Royals enjoyed a 15-1 advantage in innings seven, eight and nine during the weekend sweep. In five decisive innings - seven through nine on Friday, the ninth on Saturday, and the eighth on Sunday - Sox relievers were called upon to cover 3 1/3 innings, in which they gave up 15 hits, 15 earned runs, and eight walks, while only striking out three. If you're keeping score at home, that's an ERA of 40.54.
And look here. Kansas City third baseman Mike Moustakas is out for the season after tearing an ACL in a collision with left fielder Alex Gordon a week ago Sunday at The Cell, when the White Sox managed a 3-2 victory, one of just four in their last 18 games. Gordon also is out with a broken hand, while catcher Salvador Perez was injured Saturday when Cheslor Cuthbert, subbing for Moustakas, ran into him on a routine pop-up in the eighth inning. Perez will miss about 10 days.
Lest we place all this carnage on the bullpen, let's look at the Sox three starters in the weekend series. Miguel Gonzalez, Carlos Rodon and Chris Sale pitched a total of 18 1/3 innings, in which the Royals scored just six runs, for an ERA of 2.95. The Sox trio fanned 15 and walked four. All departed with a lead. So, yes, these losses rest squarely in the shoulders of a bullpen that was the American League's best in the month of April.
In his pre-game comments on Sunday, Sox broadcaster Steve Stone reminded us of the bullpen's success just a month ago. If fellas like Albers, Jones, Zach Duke, Dan Jennings and Robertson were so effective in April, why shouldn't they re-discover their effectiveness from this point forward? That argument is a tough sell after what we saw in Kansas City.
The guy who has been conspicuously quiet the past few days is pitching coach Don Cooper. I'm not regularly listening to sports radio or looking for fan reaction on the Internet, but I do know that Robin Ventura absorbs criticism - lots of it justified - for a variety of faults, and batting coach Todd Steverson is cited when Sox hitters falter. Meanwhile, the Sox bullpen might be more effective with a group of high school pitchers than it has been since blowing an eighth-inning 11-6 lead to Texas back on May 10, a game that really marked the beginning of this tailspin.
So what's up, Coop? What can you do to turn these guys around? There doesn't appear to be any help coming from the farm system. You think bringing back Daniel Webb, Erik Johnson or Scott Carroll will bolster the bullpen? See what I mean?
Barring a trade, the Sox are stuck with the personnel they have as far as relievers are concerned. They basically have to escape the funk they're in. If not, let's be thankful that the Twins will still finish last, absolving the Sox of that distinction.
Before traveling to Kansas City, the Sox dropped three-of-four to Cleveland, another Central Division foe. After edging the Indians 7-6 in the first game of a doubleheader on Tuesday, the Sox scored a total of six runs in the next three losses. So you couldn't blame the bullpen for those defeats.
The Sox haven't won a series since sweeping the lowly Twins the first weekend of May, and that came after they dropped two-of-three to the Red Sox at home. As you read this - you should be commended for getting this far - the Sox are in New York for a three-game series against the pitching-rich Mets before going to Detroit for a weekend series with the Tigers, who must be licking their chops at the prospect of facing the Sox bullpen.
If you're interested in consolation, the ballclub, despite six straight losses, remains three games over .500. Look back to 1983 when the Sox were 24-27 after 51 games. That team wound up winning 99. Playoff teams in 2000 (29-22) and 2008 (28-23) had comparable records to this season's club.
However, those teams resembled the ballclub that was 23-10 this season when things looked bright and rosy. Right now most Sox fans can't envision Ventura's outfit rebounding to play that kind of winning baseball. But who thought the Sox would get beat Saturday with David Robertson protecting a 7-1 ninth inning lead?
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