For Red Sox, seventh inning as ugly as it gets

BOSTON -- It began with the Boston Red Sox leading by one run. It ended with them trailing by two. In the course of a 162-game season, rough innings are inevitable. The best teams simply shrug them off.

But what made the top of the seventh stand out in Saturday's 7-4 Red Sox loss to the Chicago Cubs was how ugly it was.

If you're squeamish, avert your eyes. Otherwise, here's a breakdown of the breakdowns, from a managerial decision to stick with the starting pitcher a few batters too long to a sloppy defensive play that must have made Little Leaguers shake their heads in disgust.

1. Going wrong with Wright.

For six innings, Steven Wright did a decent enough job of making Cubs hitters uncomfortable, which made sense since Chicago was the only team in the majors that hadn't faced a knuckleball pitcher over the past five years. Wright also had thrown only 97 pitches, and Joe Kelly (17 pitches Friday night), Matt Barnes (serving a four-game suspension) and Tyler Thornburg (on the disabled list) weren't available.

It didn't seem unreasonable that Wright could get a few more outs. Besides, as Red Sox manager John Farrell noted, Cubs catcher Miguel Montero tends to hit fastballs better than slow stuff.

So Farrell stuck with Wright, who gave up a tying homer on a first-pitch knuckleball.

"Montero hit one of the very few that actually stayed up," Wright said. "He put a good swing on it. Plus, the ball was jumping out there to right."

If Farrell could've used Barnes, he conceded he might have turned to the bullpen sooner. But after Wright retired the next batter on one pitch, Farrell left him in to face lefty-swinging Jon Jay rather than bring in lefty Robby Scott.

"If Robby Scott [comes into the game], they've got [Javier] Baez waiting to hit for Jon Jay," Farrell said, "and [that's] not a favorable matchup with the short porch in left here."

Jay lined a double, chasing Wright from the game, and Scott gave up a go-ahead RBI single to Kyle Schwarber, who had struck out in two of his previous three at-bats against Wright.

Maybe the Red Sox were due for a bullpen blowup. Scott hadn’t allowed a run in eight appearances (4⅓ innings); Ben Taylor was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket this week because of his strong early-season stint in the big leagues. Even without Thornburg, whose cranky shoulder has prevented him from pitching this season, the bridge to closer Craig Kimbrel has actually been rather sturdy.

“This is a tough team to match up against,” Farrell said. “They’re going to find a way to get their matchup with the alternating left-right in the lineup. I wouldn’t say [the relievers] have exceeded what our internal expectations are, and yet we’ve not been with a full complement of guys that are on our roster.”

2. No defense for defense.

Once the Cubs took the lead, it was up to reliever Taylor to keep them from adding on. He might have, too, if only he had covered first base faster.

With runners on first and second and one out, Anthony Rizzo hit a grounder to first baseman Mitch Moreland, who made a good throw to second to get the lead runner. But Taylor hesitated before heading to first, and shortstop Xander Bogaerts' low relay throw hit off Taylor's glove and skipped away, allowing Schwarber to score.

"In the moment, it looked like Ben was late getting to the bag on the back end of that double play," Farrell said. "Bogey throws it, tries to lead him there, ends up being behind him. And then we end up throwing the ball around the ballpark."

Indeed, Moreland scooped up the errant ball and airmailed Bogaerts at second base, allowing Rizzo to reach third.

Cue the carnival music.

The Red Sox committed two errors on the play, four on the day. And if it was only one bad game, it could easily be dismissed. But they have made 12 errors in their past 11 games. Moreland already has one more error (three) than he had all of last season when he won a Gold Glove with the Texas Rangers.

"We're fine," said second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who lost track of the number of outs one night earlier, an uncharacteristic mistake that didn't cost the Red Sox but nevertheless was surprising. "That one [seventh] inning, we had a snowball fight. Other than that, we've been pretty good."

It certainly can't get much worse than their ugliest inning of the season.