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Red Sox hit with series-opening loss in return home after Brewers tag Kutter Crawford for six runs

The Brewers got to Red Sox starter Kutter Crawford for six earned runs in 4⅓ innings.Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Through 50 games, the fascinating and unexpected excellence of the Red Sox pitching staff came with a pair of curiosities: Can it last? And if so, for how long?

Friday night marked the beginning of a stress test that may help form answers to those inquiries. The arrival of the Brewers at Fenway Park marked the beginning of a stretch where the Sox will get a heavy dose of the top offenses in the league, with 14 of 22 contests against teams that entered Friday with one of the top nine run-scoring offenses in the game.

The stretch began inauspiciously. The Brewers, whose 5.0 runs per game ranked third, clobbered Kutter Crawford and the Red Sox to claim a 7-2 road victory witnessed by 30,992. The Sox fell to 1-12 when allowing six or more runs this year, and received a reminder that coming contests against the Brewers, Orioles, Atlanta, Yankees, and Phillies will come with a high degree of difficulty.

“They’re good. They compete every single pitch. They didn’t chase a whole lot, I noticed, like [teams] in some of my previous outings,” Crawford said. “They’re good hitters, they’ve got a good approach, they don’t chase a whole lot, and make you get in the zone.”


At the game’s outset, the Sox defense masked some of Crawford’s limitations. Aided by a double play in the first inning and a spectacular Superman diving catch by center fielder Ceddanne Rafaela on a liner into the gap in left-center in the second, the starter navigated two scoreless innings at the outset.

“At this point, when it’s off the bat and it’s in the center field area, I think [Rafaela] always has a chance,” Crawford said. “Unbelievable catch.”

But Crawford faltered in the third, when the Brewers broke through with three runs. Rookie Jackson Chourio smashed an elevated two-strike cutter to center, just off Rafaela’s glove, for a leadoff double, then advanced to third on a bunt single by nine-hole hitter Blake Perkins. Chourio trotted home on Brice Turang’s sacrifce fly to left to give Milwaukee a 1-0 advantage.


Two pitches later, Milwaukee’s lead tripled when Crawford threw a breaking ball to masher William Contreras that was more sleeper than sweeper. The pitch broke into the heart of the strike zone and Contreras obliterated it, sending a 112-m.p.h. missile over the Wall that left inhabitants of the Monster Seats scrambling for safety.

Though no patrons were harmed, the ball ricocheted off the back wall of the second row and off a container of popcorn to produce an in-park display of culinary pyrotechnics that signaled Contreras’ eighth homer of the year.

The Brewers furthered their ferment in the fifth. Christian Yelich clanged an RBI double off the base of the wall in center and Willy Adames cracked a cutter at the top of the zone for a two-run double over the head of Wilyer Abreu in right.

With Milwaukee ahead, 6-1, Crawford departed after his shortest (4⅓ innings) and least effective (6 runs allowed) outing of the year, his ERA having climbed from 2.17 to 2.89.

“Pretty terrible, to be honest,” Crawford said. “I wasn’t able to make quality pitches in certain counts and they put some good swings on the ball. Overall, just not a good outing by me.”

The five-run gap seemed enormous on a night when the Sox mustered little against Milwaukee opener Jared Koenig (tasked with handling the first four Red Sox hitters) and bulk-innings pitcher Bryse Wilson, who leaned on a cutter/sinker combo to strike out seven and get plenty of weak contact over his 5⅓ innings. Wilson allowed the two Sox runs.


The Red Sox did their only damage against Wilson when David Hamilton, who notched his first career three-hit game, chopped an excuse-me RBI single down the left-field line in the fourth inning and Dominic Smith blasted a solo homer, his first of the year, to center in the sixth.

Jarren Duran added three hits.

Otherwise, the lineup flailed, with Sox hitters striking out 10 times. Tyler O’Neill struck out all four times he stepped to the plate, and has fanned seven consecutive times over the last two games.

“Just a tough night,” manager Alex Cora said. “Just got to keep working.”

Milwaukee tacked on a run in the ninth against long-man Chase Anderson, who fulfilled his bullpen-saving duties with aplomb. Anderson allowed just the one score while absorbing four innings.

The Brewers’ seven-run tally continued an early pattern. While the total body of work by Sox pitchers has been excellent, the team has allowed 5.5 runs per game when facing offenses that rank in the top third of the league in scoring (Baltimore, Cleveland, Atlanta, and Milwaukee) while going 2-11 against that group. The Sox have held the rest of the league to 3.3 runs per game, forging a 24-13 record.


Will the pitching staff prove itself capable against an array of top offenses in the next three weeks?

“We’re about to see,” Cora said. “We’ve faced some good offenses throughout the season and we’ve done a good job, so I’m not looking that ahead. Let’s see what we’ve got tomorrow.”

Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him @alexspeier.