Ace left-hander Chris Sale began Boston's AL Division Series by giving up seven runs in five innings. Fellow starters Drew Pomeranz, Doug Fister and Rick Porcello didn't do any better.
Again and again, the high-powered Houston Astros got to Boston's starters early, and after four truncated outings by their starters, the AL East champion Red Sox are heading home for a second-straight early postseason exit following a 5-4 loss in Game 4 on Monday.
Boston used two Cy Young Award winners during the series in Porcello and David Price, and it may have another this year in Sale. And yet Houston scored in the first inning of every game, chasing every starter besides Sale before the fourth inning.
It's returned a cloud of uncertainty over manager John Farrell, who had an early exit himself Monday, ejected by plate umpire Mark Wegner for arguing balls and strikes in the second.
Farrell led the franchise to back-to-back division titles for the first time in its history, but last year's team was swept in an ALDS by Cleveland, and this year's team didn't fare much better.
Despite another disappointing playoff exit, Farrell said he believes he's the manager that can get the Red Sox over their current postseason stumbling block.
"Yes, I feel confident in that," Farrell said. "I know that we have got opportunity to access where we are as a team. I can't begin to talk about what the offseason plans are, and what changes may be realized, but there's still good things that are going on here."
Maybe so. But the way this season ended underscored the shortcomings of a pitching rotation that Farrell was banking on to carry this team deep into October.
Porcello wound up among the major league leaders in losses, and Price didn't even crack the postseason rotation after a year spent battling a shoulder injury - he did throw 6 2/3 scoreless relief innings in the ALDS. Even Sale and Pomeranz, who had productive stretches, struggled late in the season as the playoffs drew closer.
It all hit a floor against the Astros, as Sale, Pomeranz, Fister and Porcello surrendered eight first-inning runs to the Astros over the four games of the series. It left the Red Sox in a perpetual catch-up state.
Sale gave Boston some life in a relief capacity on Monday after Porcello gave up two quick runs in his three innings of work. But Sale also surrendered his second home run of the series to Alex Bregman, this time a tying shot in the eighth inning to start Houston's comeback.
Disappointing as his first-career postseason experience was, Sale said it hasn't affected his belief in what this group can do.
"We've got a lot of guys coming back," he said. "A lot of guys that carried this team are young guys that are gonna be here for a while. It's hard not to be optimistic about this team for the next long time."
Despite the ending, second baseman Dustin Pedroia said the blame doesn't belong with any one player or group of players.
"There was never any quit in this team," he said. "I'm proud of everybody in here. We dealt with a lot. ... We didn't achieve our goals. But I'm proud of how everybody went about their business, and showed up for everybody and played to win."