In a game full of frustrating, undeserved outs, Jackie Bradley Jr. produced one fly ball the Braves couldn't catch, and that was all the Sox needed with Rick Porcello turning in his best outing of an already encouraging season.
Look, it's the Braves. You can't completely remove that aspect from Porcello's excellent start. Here is a team that, as a unit, comes in at just 60% of a league-average bat on the year. The next lowest mark is 73. They have three homers. The next lowest mark is 11. They are a well-oiled losing machine, built to fail so that future versions might succeed.
This start does not stand alone. Rick Porcello has been giving up a few runs, yes, but watching him play, there's no comparing this Rick Porcello to the one who started last year so poorly. He has regularly been in control of his opponents, tagged only by a couple stray homers against some of the game's best home run hitters. Yes, the Braves might then be considered his perfect opponent (though that could be said for anyone who takes the mound), but ultimately, what Rick Porcello did today fits the trend.
And what he did today was dominate, pure and simple. This was as much the old 2014 Rick Porcello as it was the 2016 model. The strikeouts were still there, and they weren't just the result of batters freezing up. Instead, he was able to get every one of his pitches under, around, and ultimately past basts. Be it the curveball, cutter, heat, or slider, batters didn't know what to expect when Porcello got to two strikes, and couldn't react to what he gave them.
But if the strikeouts were there, almost every ball in play also stayed on the ground. And it's hard to allow homers when that's true. Of the 19 outs he recorded on the night, 15 of them came either on the ground or on strike three. That's not the classic recipe for Porcello success. It's better. And through four starts, it's starting to look like something he might actually be able to pull off.
Porcello, however, could only keep the Braves off the board. Unless he was going to go deep, which sounds a lot more ridiculous before you realize he was one of Boston's most productive players at the plate (twice on base, if thanks to the defense). This was not a gem from Julio Teheran by any means. It was one of those extraordinarily frustrating games where the Red Sox couldn't seem to do anything in between. It was all hard contact and strikeouts, which usually ends up favoring the hard contact in the end.
But the line drives the Red Sox hit found gloves over and over and over again. And so they found themselves in a pitchers' duel that kind of shouldn't have been. And it lasted almost until Porcello was out of the game. Finally, though, the bat that had saved the Red Sox in the twelfth inning last night--hell, earlier in the day--came through once more. Getting a changeup that stayed waist-high and over the outside part of the plate, Jackie Bradley Jr. reached out and pulled it all the same, sending a fly ball that kept on sailing up and over the wall in right field to put the Red Sox on the board.
The Sox would nearly break the game open after that, loading the bases for Xander Bogaerts, who put together one hell of a battle against Teheran after falling behind 0-2. But in the end it was another one of those damn line drive outs keeping the game close.
That meant the Sox would need eight outs from the bullpen when Rick Porcello started to struggle some in the seventh, putting two men on base with one down. Robbie Ross Jr. was up to the task despite the Rays sending some righties to the plate, and despite Dustin Pedroia only managing one out on a double play ball thanks to a tough hop on a terrible Atlanta infield. With Erick Aybar taking the plate, Ross dropped a knee-buckling breaking ball through the back door and over the plate, getting Christian Vazquez to pump his fist for the strikeout before even the umpire could.
From there, it was a couple easy innings which, y'know, isn't necessarily the given we'd hoped it would be. Koji Uehara allowed a walk, but got easy contact for his defense to handle. And while Craig Kimbrel absolutely nicked Freddie Freeman's foot with two down in the ninth, the umpire missed it, and the review was apparently inconclusive (except it really wasn't, for all that the Red Sox will take it). Freeman had to stay at the plate, where Kimbrel was able to cut him down for strike three, out three, and the ball game.