Too often of late, the Red Sox have seen the events of the first six, seven, or even eight innings undone by one frame of disaster. And tonight, as the eighth inning fell to pieces, there was every indication that more of the same was heading Boston's way until a savior appeared in the form of Brad Ziegler.
To get to the eighth with a game still to lose, the Red Sox had to survive another Clay Buchholz start. And while the process was a bit unusual, the resident swingman turned in a typically underwhelming start against the Diamondbacks. He actually managed to get through the first three innings having faced the minimum, but found himself in trouble in the fourth, giving up a pair of one-out baserunners (that out having come on a rocket snagged out of mid-air by Travis Shaw) that led to a pair of Diamondbacks runs.
That would reverse a 1-0 lead the Sox had taken in the third on singles from Sandy Leon, Andrew Benintendi, and Dustin Pedroia, and things would just get worse in the top of the fifth as Buchholz left with one out and one on having reached his pitch limit, with Robbie Ross Jr. letting the inherited runner score on a Michael Bourn ground ball single.
The bottom of the inning, however, would see the Sox turn things around against Archie Bradley. Sandy Leon provided the initial spark, hitting a very Fenway homer just past the Pesky Pole to bring the Sox within one. The Diamondbacks defense would provide a second, with Socrates Britto calling off Jean Segura then letting a Brock Holt pop-up drop right next to him. Andrew Benintendi brought him home to score with a double to the base of the wall in left, then scored himself on a base hit from Mookie Betts. Boston's lead would only grow in the bottom of the sixth, with Brock Holt clearing the dugouts with Sandy Leon on base to make it 6-3.
For Matt Barnes, the seventh inning did not prove too much of a problem thanks in no small part to a beautiful double play, with Dustin Pedroia ranging behind second, the flipping the ball to Xander Bogaerts as the shortstop slowed up to accommodate Pedroia, then stepped across the bag and fired to first. But coming back out for the eighth, Barnes had a close call that may have been strike three go against him, leading to a leadoff walk for Michael Bourn. And from there, the zone was lost to him. Eight of his last nine pitches were balls, with Paul Goldschmidt and Mike Lamb drawing walks to load the bases with zero outs.
At that point, the Red Sox would have considered themselves lucky to escape with even a one-run lead still to their name. With the call to Ziegler, the Red Sox were basically hoping for a double play ball that scored a run. The crowd? They were just happy to see strike one to Rickie Weeks. A swing-and-miss on a curveball for strike two got even bigger cheers, and when another curve put Reeks away, the Sox had more than a little life restored. Perhaps noticing that Ziegler was determined to throw strikes, Yasmany Tomas went out there swinging, but only managed to make contact once, fouling off an 0-2 curve before going down himself on a sinker. Chris Owings would fair worst of all, chasing a frisbee curve well off the plate for strike three.
Called upon to limit the damage, pitch-to-contact groundball expert Brad Ziegler had thrown 10 pitches, 10 strikes, and gotten three K's for his efforts. The save by definition ended up going to Craig Kimbrel in the ninth, but make no mistake, it's Brad Ziegler who put this one away for the Red Sox and, with the help of Holt, Leon, Benintendi, and Pedroia, got the Red Sox their first series win since they knocked off the Giants all the way back in mid-July.