When the Red Sox play these days, things tend to go badly. It's really just a question of whether what went wrong was what we expected, or something surprising.
Today's problem was unexpected. Since implementing Dustin Pedroia's "fix," David Price has pitched like David Price, producing 58 innings of 2.47 ERA ball in eight starts. That's exactly what the Red Sox got him to do. It was a pretty convincing stretch.
That stretch ended here. Price gave up a homer to Shin-Soo Choo right off the bat, and then two more in the first even after Prince Fielder grounded into a double play. He couldn't keep the Rangers from tacking on a fourth run in the second, and after getting Fielder once more on a ground ball to start the third, the Rangers collected hit after hit after hit. Price was chased with seven outs, and ultimately, six runs to his name.
That's pretty damn awful in the short term. The Red Sox were in a bad place headed into this game, having needed extra innings just to win against James Shields and avoid going 0-for-4 against Chicago. James Shields! Price put the Red Sox in a huge hole when they needed him to pull them out from the one they'd been digging this past week. In the long term? Eh. I feel like we should be past the point of worrying if Price will be good. This was just one of those bad starts that good starters have. Probably. While Price's next start has the chance to change how we view this one, for now, it should probably be viewed as little more than a blip on the radar.
So that's the story of the first three innings. The story of a game all-but lost, with a team in free fall, and everything terrible.
The next six innings were something else entirely.
Here's the thing about Boston's bullpen: its failures have had a tendency to be dramatic, but the failures of the rotation leave them with so many innings to handle that when you look at the unit as a whole, they turn in about as much solid work as any other group in the majors. If that first inning in the 7-8-9 stretch is not as certain as you might like it to be, when thrown into a 6-0 game in the third, this is the sort of pen that stands a pretty good chance of keeping it from getting too much worse.
They did exactly that tonight. Matt Barnes turned in eight outs, and if he gave up a run, he also kept any of Price's inherited runners from scoring. Heath Hembree turned in another strong late-inning outing. Tommy Layne, perhaps the least reliable arm of the bunch, managed to go two full innings while allowing just a walk. And Koji Uehara was once again good Koji, striking out the side when he took the mound, blowing guys away with (by apparent design!) 87 MPH high heat. Layne is still not a guy to lean on, and Koji Uehara's bad days are obvious, disastrous, and need very much to be worked around, making him a less-than-ideal candidate for his current role, but today, he and the rest turned in 19 big outs in a game where they were forced into a bad situation far too early.
A little bit of math (or a glance at the headline, or the general demeanor of this whole story by this point) would give away the fact that this game, once 6-0 to the Rangers, did eventually see the bottom of the ninth in Texas. That's where the lineup comes in. The Red Sox did their scoring in bunches tonight, and three names stand out.
The first is Hanley Ramirez. The first baseman has been slumping hard, and it takes some serious cherry-picking to make him look respectable at first over any recent stretch. But in the fourth inning, after a leadoff single from David Ortiz, Nick Martinez would hang a changeup to Ramirez, and he smoked it well over the wall in center field to put two runs on the board for the Red Sox. While the real sign for Ramirez will be hitting faster pitches, this is his third homer in the second half of June now, and I can't help but be reminded of David Ortiz going powerless to start 2009 and then going on a homer frenzy starting in June to, frankly, keep his career alive until today. I'll admit, it's perhaps me seeing what I want to see, but at the very least it's some reason to hope for Hanley.
Still, there was much work to be done. Next in line: Jackie Bradley Jr. Unlike Hanley, Bradley only has the perception of being cold right now. Sure, he's not at his hitting-streak heights, but even looking just at June, this "cool" Bradley is basically 2016 Mookie Betts, or "pretty damn good." Tonight, he kept on showing that he's more than just his hot streaks, finding the upper deck on a 2-2 fastball up by the letters, and bringing in who else but Hanley Ramirez in the sixth to make it 7-4.
That deficit would not change in the seventh or eighth, however, leaving the Red Sox with a lot of ground still to cover in the ninth. So now needing just to reach base, Bradley drew a walk against Jake Diekman to lead off the inning. His efforts seemed likely to end in vain, however, as Bryce Brentz and Travis Shaw were retired behind him, bringing the Red Sox to the bottom of the lineup, where Sandy Leon came in to pinch-hit for Christian Vazquez.
To say Leon battled would be an understatement. He fell into a 2-2 count after four pitches, then fought off three straight pitches foul, including a slider that seemed headed almost for his feet. How, at that point, he laid off the eighth-pitch fastball to run the count full is beyond me, even if it was a clear ball, but he had his 3-2 count, and after two more fouls, his pitch to hit. He drove the 11th pitch of the at bat into the corner in left, bringing Matt Bush into the game to face Mookie Betts as the tying run.
If things went badly for Barnette, Bush entered a nightmare. On just his third pitch of the game, Bush delivered 97 MPH heat to Mookie. But it was straight heat, and it was middle-middle, and it was gone. Betts drilled it into the seats directly past the 404' marker in center, and the game was tied.
Tied, but not over. For that, the Red Sox needed a bit of help. Bush gave it to them, first offering up a six-pitch walk to Dustin Pedroia. Xander Bogaerts thought he'd drawn a second on a close 3-1 pitch, but after shaking off the borderline call, singled into right to move Pedroia to within 90 feet of home. Usually it's not so much the 90 feet from second to third that matter. But this time, Bush completely lost a pitch to David Ortiz. It came in instead of going out, and Wilson couldn't react fast enough behind the plate, allowing the ball to get away to the backstop, and Pedroia to come in to score the go-ahead run.
Queue the arrival of good Koji, and the ending of the game Red Sox fans have needed for a bit now. It's not quite as superlative as it might have been were this not a game the Sox should already have had a pretty good shot at with Price on the mound. But regardless of the matchup, they beat a Rangers team sitting 20 games over .500, and came back from a big deficit. This wasn't the opposite of recent games where everything that could go wrong instead went right, either. Yes, they got the wild pitch, but ultimately, David Price did go horribly wrong, and the Red Sox simply got locked in and overcame it by pitching well, and hitting well for the last six innings. That's a lot more sustainable than the alternative, particularly if you're a believer in Price going forward as I am.
Either way, the quest for five innings of three-run ball is still on. But there's big signs of life from the offense that's supposed to be able to actually capitalize on that, and a reminder from the bullpen that, while reorganization is perhaps needed, revolution is not. If they can go ahead and capitalize on it tomorrow, this game might even end up looking like something of a turning point.
We can only hope.