After one shaky outing from Joe Kelly sandwiched between disasters from Wade Miley and Clay Buchholz, the Red Sox came into Wednesday night's game prepared for the worst. Jackie Bradley Jr. had been sent back to Pawtucket and Anthony Varvaro possibly sacrificed entirely just to bolster the bullpen should the worst come to pass once more and Rick Porcello leave them facing another long night of relief pitching.
Well, Porcello played around with a couple red flags. When he walked the first batter of the game, it was "here we go again" right up until he struck out the next three batters he faced. When he loaded the bases with zero outs in the top of the second on a double, error (Porcello himself failing to tag first as he covered the bag), and hit batter, fans may have already been speculating about who would make way for Eduardo Rodriguez on the roster.
But Porcello got some luck going his way. Josh Thole's line drive was close enough to Xander Bogaerts' glove that Mookie Betts was able to gun down Michael Saunders at third, bringing one run home but finally putting an out on the board. And while Dalton Pompey managed to steal third, leaving a second run just 90 feet away, Porcello got the ground ball he needed to wipe out both Thole and Ryan Goins, ending what could have been a catastrophic inning with just one run in.
It took the Sox until the third to get Porcello his run back on singles from Ryan Hanigan, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz. And then one more at bat to get him a nice lead, with Hanley Ramirez falling behind 0-2 against R.A. Dickey's knuckleball before completely destroying a third to put himself into double digits in homers on the season. It would have been 4-1, but the one bugbear for Boston tonight was baserunning, with Pedroia getting himself thrown out by a good amount trying to go first-to-third on Ortiz' RBI single.
The Porcello of the second inning, meanwhile, was nowhere to be found. Mookie Betts saved extra bases in the top of the third with a spectacular leaping grab in center, but after that Porcello didn't ask for anything more than routine plays from his defense. The next Blue Jays baserunners wouldn't come until the seventh inning, when Porcello calmly disposed of a first-and-second with one out threat, getting a couple fly balls on three pitches to send the game to the bottom of the seventh.
There, the Red Sox would get a little insurance on a trio of singles from Brock Holt, Xander Bogaerts, and Mookie Betts. Once again, though, baserunning would bite them, with Bogaerts getting thrown out at the plate by a mile. John Farrell challenged the call, saying that catcher Josh Thole had illegally blocked the plate, but the umpires went with the spirit of the law over the letter of the law which, as Lou Merloni has pointed out, turns out to be the letter of the law after all:
In Sept last yr, MLB adjusted rule. The letter of rule cannot outweigh clear outcomes of the play. Xander was clearly out— Lou Merloni (@LouMerloni) April 30, 2015
Whatever the rule, it didn't come back to haunt the Red Sox any. Junichi Tazawa worked around a leadoff bloop despite facing his one major kryptonite in the Blue Jays, and Koji Uehara once again quieted his doubters by striking out the side, including two on fastballs at 88 and 87 miles per hour. It's not a pretty pitch, but it doesn't have to be. It exists for and because of that splitter, which was at its usual unhittable best tonight.
A nice change of pace for the Red Sox. A relatively calm game, some solid offense, and most importantly seven strong innings from Rick Porcello. Every other pitcher had their gem mixed in with their less impressive outings. Now Porcello has his.