A ninth-inning rally gave the Red Sox just enough offense to take a 2-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, emerging victorious in Joe Kelly's debut with Boston.
Making his first start for his new team, Joe Kelly gave Red Sox fans a pretty good idea of what kind of pitcher he is right now. Unfortunately, he kept alive the Red Sox' streak of starters walking at least as many batters as they strike out. That's not quite his modus operandi--four walks in seven innings is particularly unlike the reasonably in-control Kelly.
What was very typical Kelly was how he managed to keep runs off the board despite those peripheral failures. Kelly kept the ball low, and when you walk four batters in a game, keeping balls in play on the ground is really the only way to go. Kelly did that over and over and over again, and it kept him alive.
It did not, however, keep him perfect. The first at bat he faced Wednesday night resulted in a double to Matt Carpenter, meaning that even two ground ball outs could have put the Cardinals ahead. As it happened, it did take a ground ball single from Matt Adams to bring the run home, but the point stands: some ground balls will get through (every first-inning at bat after Carpenter's ended with a grounder), and allowing leadoff doubles is a good way to make sure those that do result in damage.
Kelly perhaps took that lesson too literally, allowing a pair of leadoff baserunners on a single and a walk in the second. There, however, we saw the positive side of the ground ball approach, as a double play allowed him to escape a rough frame without harm. From there, it was ground ball after ground ball after ground ball, with not even a few ill-timed baserunners causing any real harm. Kelly may not be able to pull off seven innings of one-run ball with any regularity walking four batters, but at the very least by keeping the ball on the ground Kelly is also likely to keep the Red Sox in the game.
Or, at least, he will if they can perform better offensively than they did tonight. Runs were in short supply indeed in Busch Stadium despite the Red Sox producing threats seemingly every inning early on. The only time they managed to capitalize came in the fourth, when a quick two-out rally saw Daniel Nava single and Xander Bogaerts double him in with a fly ball that just missed leaving the park (and also just missed being caught by Matt Holliday, who made an oddly weak attempt to catch the ball at the wally), tying the game.
The scoring chances, however, would dry up in the middle innings, and when Will Middlebrooks botched an at bat in the eighth by apparently inventing a bunt call and then failing to even get it down, it seemed all-too-likely that the Red Sox had missed their one opportunity. But there was a second chance to come in the ninth. Yoenis Cespedes led off the frame with a single to center, then moved to third base on a Mike Napoli double. The Red Sox called on David Ortiz to pinch hit, leading to a predictable intentional walk for David Ortiz and leaving the weight of the inning on the shoulders of Xander Bogaerts.
While Bogaerts was not up to the task of producing another big hit, he was still capable of getting the Red Sox a much-needed productive out. Jumping on the first pitch he saw, Bogaerts flew out to center deep enough to bring Cespedes home from third, giving the Red Sox a 2-1 lead. While Koji Uehara was not exactly pristine in the bottom half of the inning, he got Jon Jay to ground out with two men on base to end the game, earning the Red Sox a rare win.