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Red Sox 4, Athletics 2: Joe Kelly makes his case, Sox win in familiar fashion

Joe Kelly threw six strong innings of one-run ball Saturday evening, likely securing a place in the Red Sox rotation heading forward.

Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox enjoyed a familiar story of a different kind Saturday evening, earning a second straight 4-2 win over the Oakland Athletics behind a strong starting pitching performance, this time from Joe Kelly, who may have secured his spot in the rotation for a while longer with six innings of one-run ball.

It's hard to match up with a start in the World Series, but in terms of the direction of Joe Kelly's career, this was definitely one of the more important starts of Joe Kelly's life. While he'd allowed two-or-fewer runs in three of his last four outings, the fourth start was a 1.2 inning, seven-run disaster against Minnesota, and only his first outing against Texas--seven innings, seven strikeouts, and two runs on seven hits and a walk--stood out as particularly impressive. With his ERA a bloated 5.83, and Steven Wright ever reliable if never particularly impressive, Kelly's spot in the rotation was certainly in jeopardy.

Well, we don't have word from John Farrell just yet, and Joe Kelly's start Saturday was not the best of his career. But it was one of the best he's had this season, closer to his legitimately impressive outing against Texas than the other simply acceptable performances. And it's hard to imagine it wasn't enough to buy him that fifth spot in Boston's rotation.

It wasn't a completely clean start. After an easy first, Kelly allowed some hard contact in the second, but struck out both Josh Reddick and Max Muncy to keep the Athletics off the board. The worst inning of his day came in the third, with the Athletics pushing across a run on an Eric Sogard single and Billy Burns triple that came on the very next pitch. But the triple didn't exactly raise a red flag for Kelly. Burns simply jumped on a first-pitch fastball, and hit a fly ball that caught the scoreboard in left. In a different park, or with just a little less distance, it would likely have been an out, and had Mookie Betts played the ball better, it wouldn't have even gotten Burns to third with one out. But that proved inconsequential, with a ground out to Mike Napoli holding Burns at third and a strikeout of Stephen Vogt leaving him stranded there for good.

Kelly again worked around some danger in the fourth after a one out double and walk, but he pushed through six innings relying mostly on his fastball. It's going to take more than six good innings to convince anyone that Joe Kelly has this whole starter thing figured out, and is not at some point destined for the bullpen, but it's at least deserving of some more opportunities to prove just that.

The Red Sox offense, meanwhile, suffered from many of the same opportunity problems they have all year. But if the stranded baserunners were plenty--Dustin Pedroia, Brock Holt, and Mike Napoli reached base three times a piece and scored a combined total of one run--they still took advantage of enough opportunities to win the ballgame. Hanley Ramirez put them on the board in the first with a towering shot to dead center off Jesse Chavez, scoring Brock Holt in the process to give the Sox a 2-0 lead. Then, immediately after Kelly had allowed the Athletics to pull within a run, Ramirez picked him back up by starting a two-out rally on an infield single, and scoring when Ortiz planted a double off the scoreboard and well past Ben Zobrist on the ricochet. Napoli would proceed to drive Ortiz in as well, giving the Sox a 4-1 lead that only shrank on a Mark Canha solo shot against Alexi Ogando in the seventh.