In their final series against the Rays in 2014, the Red Sox sent Tampa Bay packing with another blowout victory in which--believe it or not--Allen Webster looked like an honest-to-God major league pitcher.
To be fair to Webster, he has not exactly struggled these past few weeks. Heading into Thursday night, he had pitched 17 innings in three September starts, allowing six earned runs, striking out 10, and walking just four. Calling it the best stretch of his major league career isn't saying much, but it's still something.
Throw in this final game of his 2014 season as an exclamation point, however, and suddenly Webster has a foundation for 2015. It's not going to get him and his still 5+ ERA into the starting rotation out of spring training, but again, it's something to work with.
The early stages of this game promised no such thing for the young starter. Webster allowed two hits in the first inning, escaping only on a Wil Myers fly ball to right field, then hit Ryan Hanigan and gave up two more singles to Kevin Kiermaier and Ben Zobrist to bring a run home. There's no telling how much further that inning might have gone had John Farrell not successfully challenged a safe call on Zobrist's attempt to steal second base, giving Christian Vazquez his 15th base stealer thrown out in 29 attempts this season despite the pitch bouncing in.
Tampa Bay's run was only good for a tie game, making up for a Daniel Nava sacrifice fly in the first that brought home a run after a pair of leadoff singles from Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts. And that tie would not last long at all, either, as Christian Vazquez brought his bat into the game to join his arm and glove. With Garin Cecchini on base via an infield single in the bottom of the second, Vazquez cleaned out a high, inside fastball from Jeremy Hellickson, launching a towering shot that would have hit the streets but for the AAA sign over the Monster.
It would prove quite the excellent night for Vazquez all told, but his next hit would not come until after Rusney Castillo blew the game wide open in the third. With Jeremy Hellickson fresh out of the game after a pair of singles and an error from James Loney brought in a four Boston run, Castillo stepped to the plate with two men on and welcomed Steve Geltz to the game with a three-run shot into the Monster seats, putting the Sox ahead 7-1.
Allen Webster would hold that lead nicely, only allowing a pair of ground ball singles in a fourth inning that saw him strike both Wil Myers and Kevin Kiermaier out on a changeup that was missing bats with some regularity all night. He would earn two more whiffs on off-speed offerings in the fifth, and then a fifth with 93 MPH heat in the sixth.
The Red Sox' bats had gone quiet for a couple innings after the big third, but they woke back up in the sixth against C.J. Riefenhauser. Bryce Brentz led off the frame with a single before Christian Vazquez collected his third hit of the night and Mookie betts made it 8-1 with a double to left. A ninth run came home shortly thereafter on a sharp ground ball from Yoenis Cespedes that bounced straight off pitcher Kirby Yates to Evan Longoria at third.
Webster would finish off his night by working around a leadoff walk in the seventh with three straight ground outs, wrapping up a seven-inning, one-run performance that ranks as easily the best in his major league career.
That left just one last run-scoring inning for the Sox in the seventh, with Rusney Castillo picking up his first career double and scoring on the second hit of the night for Bryce Brentz, who was quickly driven in--and completely upstaged--by Christian Vazquez, collecting the first four-hit night of his career with an RBI double.
With big nights from Vazquez, Castillo, and Betts, and a start that actually makes all the earlier hype around Allen Webster make some sense, the Red Sox made this mathematically irrelevant win as meaningful as they possibly could.