The Red Sox defeated the Rays 7-4 Tuesday night in a game that could have been taken straight out of 2013.
2014 has certainly not lived up to 2013's reputation in the early stages of the year, but Tuesday we were reminded of where these Red Sox come from. Partially that was because John Lackey was once again excellent. The Rays are not a team that wants to be swinging early, but Lackey forced them to adjust by attacking the strike zone relentlessly. Tampa Bay did start to notch up their aggression as they fell behind in the count at bat after at bat, but while John Lackey was pitching in the zone, he was also making precious few mistakes. It can be a dangerous game to play, but he did so excellently through the first four innings, holding the Rays scoreless.
The Red Sox lineup, unfortunately, was not exactly taking full advantage. Erik Bedard is not a name that inspires fear, but the Red Sox were just not able to figure him out in the early going. "But wait," you say, "that doesn't really sound like the 2013 team!" Maybe not, but where the 2013 team did shine through was in the pitch count. It would take until the fifth for the Red Sox to push any runs across, and then only because of an impressive snag of a Dustin Pedroia line drive at third base by Evan Longoria, who nearly managed to double up Will Middlebrooks. But even with only seven men having reached, Bedard's pitch count was up over 100, forcing him out of the game.
The Rays would end up tying the game in the top of the fifth, finally breaking through for a run off of Lackey. But with the starter out of the game, the 2014 Red Sox would do what the 2013 Red Sox did best: feasted on the bullpen. Brandon Gomes had no luck finding the strike zone, walking Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes to start the inning. Xander Bogaerts was unable to get the run in, flying out to right, but Joe Maddon turned to Juan Carlos Oviedo, and the Red Sox finished the job. A.J. Pierzynski slapped a single to center, Will Middlebrooks crushed a wall-ball double,and Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a double of his own to deep center field. Dustin Pedroia broke the chain with a ground out, but Shane Victorino hit a ground-rule double to right, putting an exclamation mark on a five-run inning that left the Sox ahead 6-2.
The score looks slightly closer than that, yes. Edward Mujica unfortunately was once again without his control after Lackey got the Red Sox through the first eight innings. John Farrell did ultimately decide to call on Koji Uehara for the final out, the closer finishing the job with almost comical ease on a three-pitch strikeout.