Brock Holt responded to a Josh Donaldson grand slam with one of his own, providing the big hit that helped dig the Red Sox out from a Joe Kelly disaster and steal an 8-7 win over the Jays.
Just when you thought Clay Buchholz had made himself an easy act to follow, enter Joe Kelly. Over three innings, Kelly had the Blue Jays more-or-less in check. Excepting a lone run in the first borne of a leadoff triple, the third starter had done good work against tough opposition, even making Jose Bautista look pretty terrible as he turned to a top-notch slider.
Keeping them down, however, would prove more difficult. Entering the fourth inning with a 2-1 lead, Kelly started falling behind batters, and started getting punished for it. Letting both Michael Saunders and Russel Martin get into favorable counts, Kelly turned to his velocity, but as is so often the case that velocity just made for harder contact on the way out, resulting in a pair of well-hit singles, the second ricocheting off Kelly in the process.
Lacking any room for error, Kelly decided to give the whole thing a miss and just let it all go to hell. You'd be forgiven for thinking it was early 2015 again, as Kelly let the Blue Jays establish a conga line on the bases with two more singles and, worse still, hitting Kevin Pillar in the helmet to turn a 2-1 lead into a 3-2 deficit with the bases still loaded and zero outs in the inning.
If nearly decapitating a man wasn't enough to get Kelly out of the game, the next pitch was. Sliders that had been untouchable in the earlier innings were suddenly hanging, and his first pitch to Josh Donaldson was one of the worst, quickly leaving the playing field as Donaldson hit a grand slam to make it 7-2. Noe Ramirez would keep the Jays from scoring again in the inning, but boy, had the damage ever been done.
Only it wasn't enough damage. The Red Sox had just come off erasing one big deficit against the Indians, and they would prove up to the task once more in Toronto. Already having gotten off the schneid earlier in the game, it was the suddenly-hot Xander Bogaerts that got the inning started, doubling into the left field corner. Seeing four straight balls, David Ortiz made his way to first with the least surprising walk of all time, and both men moved on when a hustling Hanley Ramirez came just short of beating a throw to first on a tough ground ball to Darwin Barney. Travis Shaw would load the bases with a well-worked walk of his own, knocking Marcus Stroman from the game and bringing Brock Holt to the plate.
All of last year, Holt had managed just two homers. Reaching that mark in 2016 has now taken him all of three games. Taking full advantage of a fastball that seemed to float over the plate even at 93 MPH, Holt hit a rocket to right field that seemed good for two or three runs right until Jose Bautista pulled up and watched it sail over for a grand slam. Even with Joe Kelly's disaster inning, the game was still very much in play. Red Sox 6, Blue Jays 7.
While the Red Sox should like their chances once the game reaches the bullpen, the plan wasn't supposed to involve the likes of Noe Ramirez and Matt Barnes. But the middle relief corps certainly did their job. Noe Ramirez pitched two scoreless innings, picking up four strikeouts before Matt Barnes worked a 1-2-3 sixth, albeit one with plenty of loud contact.
With the game suddenly in reach, and the bullpen holding, the lineup got right back to work in the top of the seventh. This time it was Dustin Pedroia who provided the initial spark with one out, singling off Drew Storen, fresh in the game for the Jays. Storen's outing would last all of five pitches, as Xander Bogaerts made it three hits on the night. That brought David Ortiz to the plate, and while he was content to take a walk, stepping out of the box before Brett Cecil even released a 3-0 pitch, eventually Ortiz would manage to get ahold of a 3-2 curveball, sending it into right for an RBI single. One Hanley base hit later, and the Red Sox had come all the way back to take the lead at 8-7.
Still, there were some scary innings to go. First among them: Junichi Tazawa taking on the Blue Jays, who have tormented him relentlessly over his career. But Tazawa was up to the task, pitching a 1-2-3 seventh. Koji Uehara would actually look to be in more danger, walking the leadoff man and throwing quite a few pitches that stayed up higher than he would want them. But Kevin Pillar gave up an out with a pretty questionable bunt, and Brock Holt made an excellent play on a sharp ground ball, going to the backhand and firing across the diamond to get Josh Donaldson. That left Jose Bautista, and while Koji threw him a couple scary offerings, Joey Bats could ultimately manage only a ground ball back to the mound, where Uehara snagged it and threw on to first for the out.
And that brought the ball to Craig Kimbrel, who for the first time faced a truly high-pressure situation in a Red Sox uniform, with Edwin Encarnacion leading off the inning. Kimbrel would pull a couple pitches way outside, but on 3-1 got the dangerous first baseman to pop up to right field. It took four strikes to get Troy Tulowitzki, but the last one came with a swing on a slider that bounced maybe a foot outside. And Michael Saunders finally finished it off with a fly ball to left-center.
The Red Sox made good on the comeback win that escaped them on Wednesday, and are now at 2-1 to start the year. We're just three games in, and already we've got a contender for one of the best of the year. What a night in Toronto.