Through the first three weeks of June, the Red Sox bullpen had been very good. They were third in the majors for the month in WAR according to FanGraphs, they sported a combined 3.23 ERA was sixth and their 11.08 K/9 rate was the best in baseball.
But the bullpen was also fourth in total innings for the month, behind only the Angels and the Mariners, two teams bringing up the rear in the AL West, and a Rays team famous for its bullpen usage. It might have felt like a meltdown was coming, and Saturday was that meltdown.
With the Red Sox up 6-1 against the Blue Jays and cruising into the seventh inning, the bullpen proceeded to allow seven runs over two innings, imploding over the course of six outs to waste a very solid start from Brian Johnson.
When the lefty exited after five innings, having given up one unearned run on four hits, Mike Shawaryn took the ball and breezed through the sixth. Shawaryn, who came in having allowed just one run and four hits — with 15 strikeouts — in 10 very strong innings, left a fastball over the plate for Freddy Galvis to plant in the right field grandstand for a two-run homer.
Five pitches later, the rookie righty hung a breaking ball to Rowdy Tellez that landed on the batter’s eye in center, and his day was done after an inning and a third, a 6-1 lead cut to 6-4.
Marcus Walden entered to try and stop the bleeding, but a walk, a single and a wild pitch later, Luke Maile strolled home to make it 6-5 after seven.
Matt Barnes took the ball for the eighth, and after catching Randal Grichuk looking on a low fastball, allowed a single to Teoscar Hernandez, spiked a curveball to move him over, and a chopper from Cavan Biggio deflected off of Brock Holt’s glove into right to score Hernandez, and the lead was gone.
Barnes, who’s already thrown 11.1 innings this month, didn’t think his struggles were workload related.
"Executing pitches when I had to,” according to Barnes, was the issue. “Pitch to Hernandez, it was a good pitch, just kind of put it in a spot where it was tough to make a play on it. I thought the pitch to Biggio wasn't a bad pitch, especially given the count, and he put a good swing on it. And then after that I just couldn't throw anything where I wanted to.
“I just didn’t have it today.”
Ryan Brasier trotted out from the bullpen with the Red Sox clinging to a one-run lead; his command was even worse than Barnes’, as he threw nine of his 14 pitches for balls, walking the first batter he saw on four pitches to bring in a run, and walking the next to make it 8-6 and complete the inevitable meltdown.
"I was trying to make pitches to keep the runner on third base, and getting behind is never good, I think I tried to force a couple pitches and they got away from me,” Brasier said. “Walked the first guy, next guy fouled off a couple pitches, and I end up throwing ball four to him as well. You want to make competitive pitches, but at the same time you want to throw strikes, that's your main job right there, and I obviously didn't do that to the first two guys and it cost us."
With two outs and a chance to escape, four consecutive walks made the difference.
“That was a bad inning to say the least,” Cora said of the eighth. “Honestly, a bad game. Offensively we didn’t do too much after putting up all those runs and that’s something you have to do. Where we’re at right now, the way we’ve been playing the last 10 days. Putting teams away is a must. Today was one of those days. At the same time we have to do the job. The infield hit, the ball off of Holt, off the glove, and all the walks — it wasn’t a good inning for us.”
The only reliever to emerge unscathed was Josh Smith, who struck out the side in the ninth — aside from his inning, four relievers combined to throw three innings, allowing seven earned runs, six hits and five walks, an awful evening for a group that just seemed to be finding its collective stride. Excluding Smith still, those four combined to throw 100 pitches, 45 of them for balls.
The bats went down with some fight in the ninth, but with an opportunity to gain on division rivals after the Rays lost in Oakland, the Boston bullpen couldn’t get it done, and Saturday was as bad as it gets.