The Red Sox started off the second half Friday night the way they ended the first on Sunday: with a win.
It turns out that two-run homers are a good thing.
Not a controversial statement, I know, but one that very much applies to the Red Sox tonight. For most of the game they simply could not sustain a rally. One batter would reach, maybe two, but as has so often been the case in the past, the crucial hit, or even just a sacrifice fly, was ever elusive. The one early run they managed to score came only in an inning where they earned two baserunners and had a third gifted them by an errant throw from Alcides Escobar. Without that help, it would just have been another rally dead at the feet of James Shields.
Clay Buchholz wasn't actually throwing the ball all that much worse than Shields. His fastball velocity was still up and he wasn't dealing with the sort of control issues we saw killing him towards the end there. All the same, there was plenty of hard contact against Buchholz--almost an uncomfortable amount given the pitcher we saw early in the season.
Still, three of the four runs Buchholz surrendered came in innings filled with ground ball singles. Three singles and one ball-girl assisted double all came on the ground in a two-run fourth, and two more combined with a passed ball and stolen base were enough for another run in the fifth. Had things gone a little differently, we would be talking about an excellent effort by Buchholz to limit damage on a night he was perhaps without his best stuff.
One way or another, though, the Red Sox entered the sixth inning facing a 4-1 deficit and James Shields still rolling. They had already let multiple rallies go to waste, and would do the same with two more before the night was over. But sometimes all it takes is the one big frame, and that's where those two-run homers come in. After Daniel Nava hit a one-out single, the struggling Xander Bogaerts would come through with the first. Shields' 1-1 cutter cut its way right into the heart of the strikes zone, and Bogaerts flashed his big power by muscling it out to straightaway center field, cutting Boston's deficit to just one.
The second homer would require a little bit of help from Ned Yost. With two outs, Stephen Drew on second base, and Jackie Bradley Jr. coming up to bat, Yost called on Scott Downs from his bullpen. Bradley has been a lot better with the bat of late, but there's still no question that any pitcher vs. Bradley is better than the softest tossing of LOOGYs vs. Jonny Gomes. John Farrell, probably not quite believing his luck, rushed Gomes up to face Downs, and was duly rewarded. The Downs sinker that Gomes sent to almost the exact same spot as Bogaerts was honestly not all that bad. It stayed in the zone, and came back across the outside part of the plate, but it was still low and away. With Jonny Gomes, though, if the pitch is within his range, the only question is if he can see it. He saw this one just fine, and used it to put the Red Sox ahead 5-4.
And that's exactly where the score would stay. The Red Sox have had a few rough bullpen performances in recent memory, but tonight it was relatively smooth sailing. The Sox did have to hold a runner at third base with one out in the eighth, but other than that and a two-out double in the ninth, there wasn't too much tension. All told, a pretty good way to start the second half.