For John Farrell, it was the latest reminder.
Jackie Bradley -- the guy the Red Sox thought could be a good center fielder on a good Red Sox team -- had been sent to Triple-A on Aug. 18. That wasn't part of the plan. Welcome to 2014.
Cross another off the checklist of uncertainties.
"It's not about establishing roles," the Red Sox manager said earlier in the week when asked about some of the challenges of managing this 2014 team. "It was just the unknown of what we might get on a more regular basis."
There you have it.
In a lengthy interview with WEEI.com, Farrell took time to reflect on what has been the out-of-nowhere season, and how it has been managing the anxieties that accompanies what has become a 56-68 campaign.
In a nutshell, he knew guiding this group would be different than the World Series championship team of a year ago, just not this different. There are regrets, unsolved puzzles and the constant quest to remain true to the same beliefs that worked so well a year ago.
"I've been asked this question a few times: What's more challenging, this or last October? It's always now," he said. "This is always more challenging because it's the one that's here and now. We felt we had a good offensive team, so that was challenging and frustrating at the same time. You're looking for ways to try to figure it out and what you can do differently. We're all wired differently to think, 'What could I do differently?' "
A season before, Farrell was able to implement the style, tone and consistency he had been true to ever since starting his managing career in '11. The lineup possessed consistent roles, with defined skill sets. You knew what you had, and you had a pretty good idea what you were going to get.
And this time around there was hope that something along the same lines could be uncovered.
If the corner outfield production -- a left field platoon of Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava, along with Shane Victorino in right -- remained relatively the same, the left side of the infield matured at a reasonable rate, A.J. Pierzynski supplied somewhat of the production left behind by Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and, of course, Bradley emerged as a major league offensive player, managing might not be all that different.
But none of that happened, hence a whole different ball game for the skipper of these Sox.
"I didn't think the inconsistencies of the projection of what guys would be able to produce at the major league level exceeded what they did," Farrell said. "I didn't think it would take as long as it has, and it's still ongoing for some, the unknown of the production. So while you're trying to provide opportunity and let that hitter grow, when you get through the four-hole, the five-hole, and then you drop off. Trying to get some offense manufactured at the bottom half of the lineup was an ongoing challenge for us."
And while the failures of this club extend to all corners of the clubhouse, perhaps the most definitive downfall was the second half of a lineup that led to Farrell's greatest frustrations when attempting to manage the situation.
The Red Sox carry the 26th-worst batting average in the No. 6 spot (.218) and the 28th worst at both No. 7 (.209) and No. 8 (.207).
For months, Farrell had hoped things would change. There was, after all, a reason the organization had entered into the '14 season with a some optimism regarding the lineup's turnover. But it didn't, leaving the manager with what he classifies as his biggest regret.
"Looking back I would've taken a different view of the bottom part of the order. So every time we had an opportunity to advance a runner, which is different than what our offensive philosophy has been over time, that would've been borne out through the use of sacrifice bunts, just take every opportunity to sacrifice or manufacture a run," he said.
"The balance was to try to let guys grow as hitters at the major league level. That's probably one area that I would, thinking back. If we had a chance to manufacture one or two runs in the bottom of that order nightly, does that make an overall difference in our record today? Possibly."
In 2013 the Red Sox finished with the fourth-fewest sacrifices in the majors (24th), relying on an unworldly stolen base percentage of 86 percent (getting caught on just 19 of their 142 attempts) along with the big league's third-best batting average with runners in scoring position (.278).
This year? The script hasn't been flipped, but the success has.
Farrell still clearly isn't a fan of the sacrifice, with the Red Sox totaling the second fewest in the majors (15). But the other facets of the equation haven't completed the formula. The Sox have the third-worst stolen base percentage in the big leagues, getting caught on 28 of of their 58 attempts (65 percent). And they have managed just a .237 batting average with runners in scoring position, the fifth lowest.
There always was hope from the manager that things ultimately would even off, allowing for the proven approach of the season before, but they never did.
"There were signs that was happening because even through the first three months of the season we were in the top three to five in on-base, so we were creating opportunities nightly and yet our runs scored were in the bottom three, so there was a huge gap and huge discrepancy in getting on base and completing the deal with driving runs in," he explained. "So our success with runners in scoring position was less and it kind of pointed to the opposition being able to manage our lineup to shut down an inning, whether that's issuing a two-out walk to get to another hitter, those were fairly regular examples.
"Going back to that specific example, there's not much you can do with two outs and two men on. You put a hand on the guy at the plate and those are opportunities that either we're going to be successful in or there might be growing opportunities for the individual, and that persisted over quite a period of time."
He added, "You always take to managing to the talents of the roster, of the strengths of the roster. That's where the challenge of getting an idea of what those strengths were from an offensive standpoint. That was an ongoing process."
The inability to uncover the proper production led to losses, which, in turn, paved the way for more managing of the clubhouse than the season before. In 2013 the fires behind closed doors usually were doused thanks in part to the power of success. This time around, however, the off-field challenges became a more public part of the job.
Discussion of defined roles had morphed into disagreements regarding playing time. Welcome to a world without wins.
"There has been," Farrell said when asked if there has been more time spent managing outside the lines than a year ago. "We all know the adage that winning cures all, and when you're not in that situation then personal goals start to become at the forefront a little bit more, whether that's through playing time, it probably shows up more through playing time. In a limited role, there's a view of, 'Well if we're performing as is, I can do better.'
"I respect that. I respect the fact that players want to be on the field as much as possible. That's where that constant communication of, 'This is where we feel you are as a player,' and in some cases that isn't agreed, and when we're warranted, change is made."
Through it all, Farrell has surfaced with perhaps a better idea of where his organization stands. That makes life in the manager's chair at least a bit more palatable. The Red Sox already have veered down a different path thanks to the non-waiver trade deadline, and they most likely will continue to adjust as the younger players define themselves.
There has been plenty of discomfort with the unpredictability. But it is clear Farrell is more comfortable than ever digging in on what might make things work once more.
"You manage to the situation at hand," the manager said. "You have expectations, you have an approach that all of us are aware, but you adjust according to the needs of today and the needs of the roster. By saying that I'll get back to the way I manage, that would almost be inflexible. I can't do that."