For the first few innings, the old no-hit watch was on for Boston. Facing Scott Kazmir, the Red Sox were struggling to even get the ball out of the infield. Through three, Hanley Ramirez had been the only Boston baserunner, reaching on a walk to lead off the second before being erased by a Pablo Sandoval double play.
The Athletics, on the other hand, were off to a quicker start against Rick Porcello. There's no denying that the man who would be Boston's anchor in a shaky rotation was not at his level best tonight. Simply put, there were a lot of pitches up towards the top of the zone, and while Oakland is one of the better parks to pitch up in, Porcello was still made to pay with base hits when he left it high. In the third, it was a 1-0 fastball over the heart of the plate to Billy Butler that let the A's draw first blood, with Billy Burns coming around to score after reaching on a bunt.
The Red Sox would get Porcello his run back in the fourth, with David Ortiz breaking up the no-hitter and the shutout in one fell swoop. But as has been the case with Red Sox pitchers so many times, a scoring inning was repaid in kind, with the first two batters of the fourth reaching to set up another run-scoring rally.
Still, if Porcello bent, he did not fully break. A double play got him out of the fourth with just one run in, and while he repeated the act in the fifth after Xander Bogaerts, Blake Swihart, and Mookie Betts combined to bring home a second Boston run, he at least got them through five innings with three runs allowed. It can't be called a good outing, no, but on a night where Porcello couldn't necessarily put the ball exactly where he wanted it, he managed to survive and keep the Sox from ever falling far behind.
And as it turned out, striking distance would be enough. It was once again the kids getting the job done in the seventh, with Xander Bogaerts, Blake Swihart, and Mookie Betts producing three straight singles against Evan Scribner which, combined with a fielder's choice from Dustin Pedroia (and a strong takeout slide from Mookie Betts at second), was good for a third and fourth Boston run.
Of course, Craig Breslow immediately surrendered that lead right back. And "immediately" isn't much of an exaggeration. It took just four pitches for the Athletics to score, The more reliable pieces of Boston's bullpen were up to the task of seeing the game through the ninth, with Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara combining with Tommy Layne for seven scoreless outs. But that just meant extra innings out on the West Coast.
It also meant one big stage for Matt Barnes, who has mostly been used in garbage time scenarios as he was eased into the major leagues and full-time relief work at the same time, dating all the way back to last year. With few other options, though, it was trial by fire time for Barnes, and he responded admirably,working around a leadoff walk in the tenth to give the Sox a shot in the eleventh.
There, it was all about Pablo Sandoval. It had been a night of frustration for the third baseman, who looked the way he usually does against left-handed pitchers like Scott Kazmir. And when he fell behind 0-2 to Angel Castro, it looked like that might not change. But on that third pitch, with Steven Vogt set up away, Castro missed over the plate with a fastball, and one swing from Sandoval gave the Red Sox the run they needed on a line drive that cleared the wall in right. Matt Barnes provided a clean 1-2-3 bottom of the eleventh, and the Sox made it two wins straight.
It was a game the Red Sox needed to win, as much because of their record as because of all the small things that went wrong in the process, from David Ortiz being called out on a clearly missed tag (instant replay once again proving completely worthless at the hands of incompetent umpires) to Jackie Bradley Jr. making the third out after aggressively rounding third in that top of the eleventh inning. To say nothing of Edward Mujica pitching effectively for the Athletics. With the game running past 2 AM on the east coast, this would have been quite the heavy loss. Instead, it's a nice win to start the west coast trip.