The Red Sox swung at pitches in the dirt, gave up homers, and ultimately fell just short of taking advantage of a big opportunity to start the ALDS off on the right foot.
It all started well. The Sox had runners on the corners before Trevor Bauer had an out, with the heart of the order coming up to bat. And while Mookie Betts and David Ortiz produced some uncharacteristically ugly at-bats, Hanley Ramirez was able to drive a double into the gap to get the Red Sox on the board even if Brock Holt was (on review) thrown out trying to score from first. Rick Porcello hit Carlos Santana right out of the gates, but proceeded to strike out the next three batters. Things were going smoothly.
They did not continue that way. Porcello gave up the lead right away in the second on a double to the wall from Jose Ramirez and a single up-the-middle from Lonnie Chisenhall, who was tagged out coming off the bag at second. The Sox struck back just as quickly on Andrew Benintendi’s first postseason home run to right.
But then came the bottom of the third. To find Rick Porcello’s last three homers, you have to track back four games, during which he threw 420 pitches. To find the last time he allowed more than three runs in a game? All the way back to July 24th against Minnesota, of all teams. Thursday, against the Indians, it took nine pitches to change all that. Starting with an ugly finish to a long at bat against number nine hitter Roberto Perez, Porcello was just destroyed in the third. Perez copied Andrew Benintendi’s homer in the seventh pitch of his at-bat to make it 2-2. Santana provided an out on a ground ball, but that was not a sign of positive things to come. Two pitches later, it was Jason Kipnis finding the distance to give the Indians the lead, and two after that, Francisco Lindor crushed a flat changeup to make it 4-2.
As much as that inning felt like a devastating blow, it was still a close game, and one that became closer still when Sandy Leon showed a sign of life by producing the fifth solo shot of the game, perhaps leading Terry Francona to make an early call to Andrew Miller a bit later in the inning. That call nearly ended up a disaster as Brock Holt and Mookie Betts both reached against the typically overwhelming lefty, but David Ortiz struck out to end the threat.
And as they had already done twice in the game, the Sox were quick to give the run back, with Martin Perez leading off the bottom of the fifth with a very long single to left, moving to second on a sacrifice fly to the same area, and then scoring when Drew Pomeranz was called on to replace Porcello and quickly surrendered an RBI single to Kipnis. Pomeranz would end up loading the bases, but was saved from allowing another run when a Mike Napoli line drive took a big bounce to produce a ground-rule double, allowing him to strike out Lonnie Chisenhall to keep the Indians lead at two.
Unfortunately, what weakness Andrew Miller had shown in the fifth did not last. He was untouchable in the sixth, and for two outs in the seventh, leaving the Sox with just seven outs left to work with.
The first was not productive, as Bryan Shaw quickly got out of the inning. The second out brought a fourth run for the Red Sox, as Brock Holt produced the sixth solo shot of the night to make it 5-4.
A brief aside, now, on John Farrell’s Devil Magic. We Red Sox fans have now borne witness to his lineups in two postseasons. In the first, given the choice between Jonny Gomes’ ~.700 career OPS against RHP and Daniel Nava, who was hitting them to a .894 OPS on the season, Farrell went with Gomes. The glorified platoon player proceeded to crush all comers, producing key hits and homers against all odds. Tonight, Farrell tabbed Brock Holt at #2. Holt had a .624 OPS between September and October headed into tonight. He produced three hits including a double and a homer. At this point, if it looks bizarre, we should probably just assume that’s where Farrell has enlisted forces beyond our human understanding.
I’m only half joking.
Back to the game proper, David Ortiz kept the pressure on with a one-out double to right field, just barely beating the throw. His night would come to an end with Marco Hernandez pinch-running, but that didn’t end up helping as Hanley Ramirez grounded out and Xander Bogaerts K’d in an ugly at bat which saw him swinging at breaking balls he was never going to hit.
That left the Red Sox with three outs to get things right in the ninth. They didn’t pull it off. Bradley and Leon looked pretty damn lost, both striking out, and while Andrew Benintendi was able to squeeze a single into right field, Dustin Pedroia went around (despite his protests) after a hard-fought at bat, striking out to end the game.
This is, simply put, not good. And not in the normal way that a loss is not good. Of all the Indians’ paths to the ALCS, those involving a win in Game 1 did not seem terribly realistic. Porcello vs. Bauer was the one game where Cleveland’s injury woes were really set to manifest. But with that game out of the way—and a win in their pocket—the Indians now need only take two of four relatively even matchups remaining. They’ve effectively removed their greatest weakness from the equation and earned the tie-breaker in the four-game series to come.
That leaves the Sox needing to take at least one game from Corey Kluber, and even then, they need to be completely perfect behind Clay Buchholz and Eduardo Rodriguez just to make that hold up. They’re obviously not dead in the water, but this game was bigger than most series openers, and the Red Sox failed utterly to capitalize on the big opportunity presented to them.