The Red Sox completed their four-game home-and-home sweep of the Atlanta Braves Thursday night, taking advantage of a series of defensive blunders in the eighth and ninth innings to overcome what had been a disappointing night at the plate against Mike Minor.
At the end of the night, Minor will leave Fenway with seven innings of one-run baseball, but honestly it was not an amazing night of pitching from the 26-year-old lefty. Minor lived in dangerous parts of the zone all night, and his stuff was not high quality enough for that sort of approach to result in quite so clean a night. But the Red Sox just did nothing with it. Perhaps that's to be expected with David Ortiz missing and replaced by A.J. Pierzynski in the cleanup spot despite his struggles against lefties. Perhaps that's generally to be expected from the Red Sox lineup these days with bats like Sizemore, Lavarnway, and Bradley populating the bottom half. Whatever the case, it was frustrating to watch mediocre pitches go unpunished time and again.
Making it even more frustrating: Jake Peavy was actually having a decent night himself. The struggling Red Sox starter still gave up his complement of long fly balls, dealing with trouble off the wall and, yes, in the stands--Jason Heyward provided the obligatory Peavy homer to give the Braves the first run of the game in the third--but it was hardly the end-of-days stuff we've gotten used to of late. Only an incredibly questionable balk (a slight jerk from Peavy's hand behind his back earning the call) cost him a second run in the fourth, and he managed to keep the Braves from scoring again until the eighth, when they plated a third run on a pair of leadoff hits.
Honestly, it's a little hard to say that the Red Sox turned the tables on the Braves in the bottom of the inning. In fact, it was at least as much the Braves doing it to themselves. Brock Holt did hit a legitimate single to left, but Justin Upton provided the first gaffe of the frame by letting the ball bounce by him, allowing Holt to reach second. Xander Bogaerts was up to the challenge of knocking him in by flipping a single to right. The second defensive blunder of the inning would come in the next at bat, with Dustin Pedroia hitting a ground ball to his Atlanta counterpart Tommy LaStella. LaStella, however, would prove anything but Pedroia-like, fumbling the ball and failing to get the out at second, much less to start any possible double play. A.J. Pierzynski followed up with a line drive to center, and B.J. Upton mimicked his brother by letting the ball get away, enabling Bogaerts to score the tying run from third.
Then the old Red Sox poked their head out. Despite having the go-ahead run at third base with nobody out, the Sox could not so much as manage a sacrifice fly. Jonny Gomes and Grady Sizemore both struck out, and after a brief David Ortiz pinch-hit appearance ended in an intentional walk to load the bases, it was David Ross flying out to send the game to the ninth.
There, two of the game's best closers in Koji Uehara and Craig Kimbrel faced off, but only one looked the part. Koji made quick work of the Braves despite a leadoff single from Ryan Doumit, while Kimbrel...well, he was just all over the place. Jackie Bradley Jr. drew a leadoff walk, and while Brock Holt tried to get the bunt down, Kimbrel just wouldn't let him, instead giving him a free pass of his own on five pitches. That brought Xander Bogaerts to the plate needing just a single to win the game. Kimbrel turned to his curveball for strikes one and two, then tried to blow an 0-2 fastball past the rookie. Xander was having none of it. The rocket off his bat was the kind that deserved a walkoff hit, but in the end it would be a walkoff error that finished the job.
A diving Chris Johnson managed to get his glove on the ball and, had he held onto it, could have given Kimbrel some small chance to survive. Instead he got greedy, and fired to second. The throw was less-than-ideal, and once again LaStella just could not come up with the ball. Jackie Bradley Jr. didn't waste time, heading straight home with the winning run as the Braves scrambled to recover, beating the throw with ease and wrapping up the sweep.
The Red Sox have problems at the plate. The Red Sox have health problems. Both of those were on display tonight. But they also have four straight wins, and finally saw positive signs from Jake Peavy. With Xander Bogaerts in full-on breakout mode right now, the Red Sox might just stand a chance at erasing the damage they suffered during that ten-game losing streak even before the offensive reinforcements arrive.