To date, Joe Kelly's season was one disaster, a start that ended in a first-inning injury, and the subsequent disabled list stint. He needed a bit of a statement in his return to action--well, not really, because Clay Buchholz is still pitching, but a statement would certainly go a long way.
Well, statement made.
The thing with Joe Kelly is that, for all that his velocity would suggest a power pitcher capable of blowing batters away, there are few who have gotten less out of high-90s heat than Kelly in recent years. He throws the ball extremely hard, but as soon as batters have the timing, they're all over it. He might be the least deceptive pitcher in baseball when it comes to the fastball, and when combined with control issues, that's been a recipe for disaster.
Today? This is what Joe Kelly can be when the control is there. This is what happens when 97 is paired with the ability to spot said heat on the edges and throw off-speed pitches for strikes. The result: 13 up, 13 down. Better than six no-hit innings. An undeniably excellent start, and exactly the sort of thing that gets a guy like Dave Dombrowski dreaming of Joe Kelly, ace.
Will that happen? It's hard to imagine at this point, but ever so slightly less difficult than it was five hours ago.
There were still flaws, and those flaws give Kelly and the Red Sox an obvious thing to work on. When, in the fifth, Kelly lost his perfect game with a walk to Carlos Santana that saw plenty of close pitches go the other way, everything seemed to fall apart. Where he had barely missed to Santana, he missed horrifically to walk Marlon Byrd. He managed to strike out Marlon Byrd, but really only located the final pitch to him. Then another bad walk, and Kelly was suddenly perilously close to disaster.
But finally, Chris Gimenez blinked. Kelly bolted for a tapper to the left of the mound, managed to corral it, and made a slightly wild throw home. But Hanigan was up to the task, snagging the ball in front of the plate, and making the necessary correction to tap his foot on home before Santana could score, ending the inning. Given empty bases in the sixth, Kelly got two quick outs, then still managed to record the third after Travis Shaw watched one go right past him (for an error). You have to imagine they'll be taking a look at his delivery out of the stretch this week to figure out what went wrong.
Still, while Kelly was fantastic, the no-no was not to be. Jackie Bradley Jr. would save a sinking liner on one of those big plays that seem to mark every no-hitter. But this time it was not a portent of history, but a sign that Kelly was tiring in his first start back. With his pitch count already over the limit John Farrell was targetting, Kelly surrendered a gap double to Juan Uribe, and left to a well-deserved ovation.
So that was the pitching. But Joe Kelly actually isn't even a lock for star of the game. Because after a bit of a down period, the offense got back to crushing the ball again. Jackie Bradley Jr. was getting the Barry Bonds treatment, with three walks, two intentional, and one that may as well have been. Don't worry, though, one of his two actual at bats saw him keep the streak alive when Jason Kipnis could not follow an excellent diving play with an excellent throw, allowing Bradley to reach as Carlos Santana came off the bag just before making the catch.
But no, Bradley isn't Kelly's competition. It was Boston's other young outfield phenom in Mookie Betts. In the third, Betts sparked the first big Red Sox rally with a double. Xander Bogaerts would drive him and Dustin Pedroia both in with a single up the middle, with David Ortiz loading the bases behind him with one out. In their brief "slump" (if you can even call it that), the Red Sox have struggled mightily with scoring runners in situations like this. But this time, Hanley Ramirez hit a soft flare just over Kipnis' glove and into the outfield, to bring home a third run.
The next time Betts stepped up to bat, he just went ahead and did all the work himself, producing his eighth homer of the year. Sure, it was a very Fenway homer, just clearing the Monster, but it counts all the same.
Betts would again see a big at bat in the seventh. But this time, a great deal of work had gone into the set-up. Hanley Ramirez keyed this inning in as inconspicuous a manner as possible, not even getting the ball back to the mound, but placing it perfectly in between the pitcher and catcher and reaching first on an infield single. Travis Shaw turned around an unproductive day by doubling down the line in left, leading to another IBB for JBJ to load the bases.
In came Joba Chamberlain to face Christian Vazquez, pinch-hitting for Ryan Hanigan after the backup catcher was hit on the hand earlier in the game. Vazquez hit a ground ball to third, but--not for the first time today--Juan Uribe refused to touch the bag at third for a force out, instead firing home to get Hanley out there. What very likely could have been a double play was instead only good for the one out. And the third would be tough to find. Blake Swihart won a lengthy battle with Chamberlain to draw an RBI walk, and up stepped Mookie Betts. Once again, the right fielder did not exactly crush the ball, but he hit it perfectly for the park he plays in. Another Fenway homer, this time good for four runs, made the score 9-0 for the Red Sox.
It had been a bit of a rough patch for Boston heading into this game. But at least for today, they were firing on all cylinders both at the plate, and on the mound. There can be no complaints about this one, except perhaps for a solo shot allowed by Heath Hembree in the ninth to give the Indians their one run of the day. The Monster giveth, the Monster...well, giveth, but to the other team. Either way, it's not exactly going to put a damper on this day.