The Red Sox have their first walkoff win of the season thanks to a Mike Napoli walk, Daniel Nava bunt, and Xander Bogaerts bloop that felled the Orioles after a tight pitching contest Friday night.
After results of 9-4, 8-7, and 5-10 against the Nationals, this wasn't exactly the game Red Sox fans were expecting with the league's fourth-best offense (to date) coming into Fenway Park. It was, however, a welcome change. After terrible performances from Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson, and Wade Miley, there was nothing Red Sox fans wanted to see more than a decent start from Joe Kelly.
They got at least that. Arguably quite a bit more. Trying his best to take advantage of a fairly generous (if inconsistent) umpire, Joe Kelly did his best to dance around the strike zone without giving the Orioles much to hit. And for the most part, that plan worked. But it also built the pitch count. Plenty of two- and three-ball counts left Kelly with 47 pitches on his arm by the time he'd recorded his seventh out, calling into question his ability to go deep into the game.
Ubaldo Jimenez would run into his own staying problems. Like Kelly, Jimenez' pitch count rose rapidly, in part thanks to two walks in the second inning. Ultimately those walks would come back to drive him from the game, though it had nothing to do with pitch count. With one down and Sandoval on first after his walk, Jimenez got a ground ball from Mike Napoli, who was saved from a double play by Sandoval going hard into second.
Against most teams, that would be a pretty standard baseball play. But Buck Showalter has a way of making mountains out of molehills, and sure enough, when Pablo Sandoval came up with two down in the third and the bases empty, Jimenez drilled him in the shoulder. It was about as blatant as this sort of thing gets, and to their credit, the umpires treated it as such, ejecting Jimenez rather than punishing the Red Sox for his misconduct by only issuing warnings.
Jimenez' departure came with zero hits on the board for the Red Sox, who now found themselves trailing 1-0 with Kelly having allowed a fourth-inning run after a leadoff walk and hit. Kevin Gausman managed to end the fourth without any trouble, and Baltimore actually tacked on another run in the top of the fifth with the only-in-Fenway homer around the right field pole, with Shane Victorino just barely missing the run-saving grab. But when it came to the bottom of the fifth, Gausman let Xander Bogaerts reach base on a single past third base, then tried to sneak a slider past Ryan Hanigan inside. Hanigan wasn't fooled, crushing a two-run homer over the Monster and tying the game up.
Kelly would manage to get through 5.2 innings, and was only kept from six full by a rare Dustin Pedroia error. That left Edward Mujica to come up with a big strikeout with two on and two down in the sixth, as well as a scoreless seventh. Junichi Tazawa took the eight, and with the game still tied, Koji Uehara the ninth, setting up the Red Sox with a walkoff-or-bust situation.
They quickly chose walkoff. Mike Napoli took four straight pitches from southpaw Brian Matusz for the free base, bringing Daniel Nava to the plate. Nava had been batting lefty-on-lefty in spring, but set up on the right side of the plate, signaling a fairly obvious bunt. The Orioles were waiting for it, but Nava placed it so that the only play was at first, leaving Napoli in scoring position with two outs to go.
Buck Showalter turned to Tommy Hunter to get Xander Bogaerts, and to Hunter's credit, his second pitch induced weak contact. But it was perfect weak contact. Bogaerts' flare landed perfectly between second baseman Jonathan Schoop and Travis Snider in right, and Napoli's strong read off the bat let him get home ahead of the throw, giving the Red Sox their first walkoff of the year.