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Tomase: Red Sox need mental toughness now more than ever originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The thing about avalanches is that once they start, they don't stop until rock bottom. All of that snow and ice and debris gathers speed until no opposing force can stop it, not trees, not boulders, not houses, not people. Only the rocks below.
The Red Sox aren't cascading down the side of a mountain just yet, but the ground is rumbling ominously beneath their feet. They've spent the bulk of this season as not only one of the best teams in baseball, but maybe the best story, too, a likable assemblage of recognizable All-Stars and anonymous grinders playing well beyond the sum of their parts to claim the American League's best record more than halfway through the season.
They maintained that safe position as recently as last week, but the seismograph has been breakdancing ever since. On Tuesday, they dropped their fifth straight and sixth in seven games, combining their two recent trademarks -- lackluster offense and inadequate starting pitching.
The result was a 4-2 loss to the sub-.500 Tigers that dropped the Red Sox perilously close to the Yankees and Blue Jays, who each pulled within four games of Boston in the loss column.
Not coincidentally, both clubs made major additions at Friday's trade deadline while the Red Sox stood relatively pat. Boston's primary acquisition, outfielder Kyle Schwarber, just started working out at first base and hopes to begin a rehab assignment for a strained hamstring that has sidelined him since early July. Meanwhile, Yankees acquisition Anthony Rizzo continues to mash, and Blue Jays import Jose Berrios just threw six shutout innings in his Toronto debut.
If the Red Sox are feeling sorry for themselves over management's relative lack of support last week, it's understandable, but it needs to end. We'll even give them a pass for zombie-staggering through a weekend sweep in Tampa, because mental toughness hasn't been an issue all season.
But if the frustration is going to continue to boil over as it did in Detroit -- outfielder Alex Verdugo smashed his helmet in the dugout and right-hander Garrett Richards once again sulked his way through a press conference -- then at a certain point, the narrative becomes less that management didn't support the team and more that it was right not to waste future resources on a flawed roster.
The good news is we're not there yet. I do not believe this team is wired to collapse, not based on what we've seen since that opening series vs. the Orioles. The Red Sox have displayed mental toughness through all manner of trials, whether it's overcoming injuries, surviving brutal scheduling, or constantly needing to rally. Rallying the troops remains one of Alex Cora's greatest skills as a manager.
At some point, however, you worry about the mental toll their style of baseball might extract. It feels like they've already played about two dozen games at playoff intensity, and the race is only going to tighten.
"I think it's more just pressing," said outfielder Hunter Renfroe, who homered on Tuesday to provide a brief 2-0 lead. "The mental side of it, I think we're really good. I think we're mentally tough. We have some guys who have been there, done that. We have a lot of guys with experience in the World Series.
"This game is very hard, but we have some guys that have the mental fortitude that we can go a long way. We just need to keep doing what we're doing, stay relaxed, go out there tomorrow, and we'll figure it out."
If the AL East were a mountain, the Red Sox would still reside near the top. But there's no question the Yankees and Jays -- not to mention the relentless Rays -- have destabilized their perch.
"Our goal is to come tomorrow and win," Cora said. "We don't want this slide to continue."
For now, it's just a slide. Gather much more speed, however, and they may discover just how alarmingly involuntary that ride to the bottom can be.