Last night was a microcosm of how frustrating the 2011 season has been for the Boston Red Sox.
On the heels of another series of strong pitching performances, Jon Lester takes the hill and ultimately receives six runs of support — but gives up three runs in the first and five runs in five innings.
Then, the Sox' offense rallies back — three times! — to tie the game in the ninth, but lose the game partly because Terry Francona chose indirectly to substitute Jason Varitek behind the plate for Jarrod Saltalamacchia and partly because Daniel Bard picked a bad time to serve up a rookie hitter's first major league home run.
When the Sox get great offense, the pitching fails. When they get great pitching, the bats go into remission.
The Red Sox have scored five or more runs 15 times this season, and they have lost five of those games (including four of their first five). That .667 winning percentage may seem great, but last year the Sox were 67-19 in games when they scored five or more runs. That's a .779 winning percentage.
And when the Sox have allow three or fewer runs this season, they are 14-4 (.778 winning percentage). Last year, they were 59-10 (.855).
So .500 will elude the Red Sox for another three days, as the Sox won't reach that level until Friday at the earliest, when they visit the Bronx.
On the one hand, this ballclub is baseball's third-best since April 15, having gone 15-9 in the 24 games since. Only the Indians (14-7) and Rays (17-9) have done better, and that .625 winning percentage (a 101-win pace over a full season) from this date forward would net the Sox 95 wins.
On the other, the Sox are 3-4 in their last seven, 6-6 in their last 12, 7-8 in their last 15. Take out the nine-game stretch in which they went 8-1, and the Red Sox are 9-18 this year.
Optimism. Pessimism. Such is the balance when you follow a .500 ballclub.