The Red Sox have turned in a few touch-and-go performances during this winning streak of theirs, but Saturday night they left nothing in question, completely dominating the Tampa Bay Rays on the mound and at the plate en route to their sixth straight victory, 7-1.
Brandon Wokrman has turned in a couple decent performances since making his way up to the majors. So far, he's given the Red Sox the chance to win, which was more than could be said for Felix Doubront before him. If Workman has been a small upgrade, tonight Rubby De La Rosa looked like a complete revelation. And not just relative to Clay Buchholz either.
While De La Rosa had enjoyed an early resurgence in the minor leagues this season, the end of April brought with it all of his old troubles. Spiking walk rates, difficulty going deep into games, and yes, a couple big-run games to boot. If his last two games with Pawtucket provided some reason for hope, though, this first game with the Red Sox proper blew all those hopes away.
De La Rosa was not simply good. He was completely dominant. Relying largely on his fastball his first time through the Rays lineup, Rubby faced his only real trouble of the game in the second after allowing a pair of two-out singles. Sean Rodriguez managed to work the count full with runners on the corners, but De La Rosa got him to hit a changeup on the ground to Brock Holt to end the inning.
Speaking of that changeup, we've heard plenty of times about De La Rosa's connection with Pedro Martinez, and while it's ridiculous to compare anyone to perhaps the greatest pitcher of all time, Rubby's changeup was good enough tonight to make you believe that Pedro has had an influence. It was that changeup which earned De La Rosa his fourth strikeout of the night in the third inning, and then his fifth strikeout of the night in the fourth. This was essentially how the rest of his night went. Seven shutout innings, eight strikeouts, 17 swinging strikes on 105 pitches, 11 of them coming on his 30 changeups. He went deep into the game and showed no control problems to speak of. There's pretty much no nits to be picked here.
If Rubby was an absolute star, though, he didn't need to be. The Red Sox offense was in rare form tonight. It wasn't just the usual guys getting the job done, either--the bottom of the lineup which has produced so little managed to do quite a bit of work against Jake Odorizzi. In the bottom of the third, it was Jonathan Herrera setting the table for Brock Holt with a leadoff single. It was Holt at the top of the lineup, however, who crushed a 3-2 fastball into the bullpens in right to give the Red Sox the first runs of the game. The Red Sox would add a third run in the inning when Mike Carp brought Xander Bogaerts, on base for the second time in two tries, home from third with a sacrifice fly.
The bottom of the fourth would bring Odorizzi no relief. Grady Sizemore gave the Red Sox another leadoff baserunner with a line drive single, moved to third with a stolen base and a Jackie Bradley Jr. groundout, then scored when Herrera picked up his second hit of the night with the one thing he's truly excelled at this year: bunting. Herrera would score himself when, after choosing to intentionally walk Xander Bogaerts, Odorizzi surrendered a first-pitch ground ball single back up the middle to A.J. Pierzynski.
Once again, in the fifth, it was the bottom of the order putting the finishing touches on Boston's assault. With Grady Sizemore on base for a second time, the last man to get in on the action was Jackie Bradley Jr., launching his first home run of the year to right field, leaving the Rays facing an insurmountable seven-run deficit. A single run off Alex Wilson in the eighth certainly made no real difference.
All told, if there's a statement to be made against a last-place team, the Red Sox made it tonight. The team has needed the lineup to improve, but with the likes of the return of Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, and Stephen Drew inevitable, there was expectation that the quality of players would eventually be there to shine through. Not so clear was the situation in the rotation between a struggling Jake Peavy, the ever enigmatic Felix Doubront, and more than anyone else the complete wreck that was Clay Buchholz. Now, though, the Red Sox have received a good start from Peavy, seen a couple reasonable back-of-the-rotation performances from Brandon Workman, and best of all an absolute gem from Rubby De La Rosa. Add in six straight wins with Lester and Lackey to come, and the Red Sox are in shockingly good position considering where they were at the beginning of the week.