The Red Sox left it a little too late to get Eduardo Rodriguez his win, but coming up with two solo shots in the last innings of Monday night's game against the Mariners, they managed to get a big W for the team in the end.
Even if there was no personal win in it for him, Eduardo Rodriguez pitched his heart out tonight against a Mariners team which actually ranks second in the majors by wRC+. It's the latest in a series of reasonable-or-better outings from the lefty, but probably his best outing when taking everything into account.
It wasn't the complete package from Rodriguez, exactly. There's been a lot of focus on Rodriguez' changeup this season, with reasonably sound logic behind the attention. The Mariners put six righties in the lineup against Rodriguez tonight, and given that he's otherwise a fastball - slider guy, having that third offering to use against opposite-handed hitting is pretty important. Tonight, he didn't have it. Didn't even try to, really. He dropped a few in, but it was really a forgotten pitch against a lineup which he probably would've wanted it against.
But it's hard to question Rodriguez' decision when he just went out there and made it work. Rodriguez didn't stay in any one place for long with his offerings, and the Mariners showed no ability to catch up with him. He would strike out four batters as he faced the minimum through the fist three innings, only allowing a single baserunner on a walk in the third that was erased when Rodriguez himself snagged a shot back at him and doubled Franklin Gutierrez off first to end the frame.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, were having similar trouble with James Paxton. There've been a fair few occasions this season, especially of late, where the Sox have just kind of shriveled up and done nothing against mediocre or even flat-out bad pitching. This was not one of those occasions. Credit Paxton: he met a serious challenge from Rodriguez and decisively outpitched him, abusing the outside edge against a Red Sox lineup that was stacked with righties. And when those pitches dotting the corner are coming in at 98, well, good luck to you.
Still, the difference between the two would not make itself known until the seventh inning. But there, Rodriguez' higher pitch count started to shine through. As he found his way up towards 100 thrown, Robinson Cano smacked a double into right field Nelson Cruz drew a walk, and Dae Ho Lee found the gap between Jackie Bradley jr. and Mookie Betts, with a diving effort from Bradley to cut the ball off perhaps the only reason Cruz didn't have a chance to score alongside Cano.
Robbie Ross would get the Sox out of the inning with a couple big strikeouts after loading the bases by hitting Kyle Seager, but the Mariners still jumped ahead 1-0, leaving the Sox with work to do where they'd shown little real ability to do so. Finally, though, Paxton made a mistake that Boston was able to capitalize on. Just one out into the top of the eighth, Iannetta set up low for a fastball to Aaron Hill. Instead it stayed letters-high, right over the plate, at an unusually human 94 MPH. Hill jumped on his opportunity, turning Guillermo Heredia around in left to watch the ball shoot well over the wall to tie things up. It was a blip on an otherwise phenomenal radar, with Paxton getting Sandy Leon on a pop-up and striking out Bryce Brentz to end his night, but it was enough for the moment.
Junichi Tazawa had to sweat out the bottom of the second a bit, striking out Nelson Cruz with the go-ahead run at second after giving an intentional walk to Robinson Cano. Finally into the Mariners bullpen, Mookie Betts stepped in, took an easy ball one, and then jumped all over a sinker that did not sink at all. Betts' swing may not have produced quite as much power as Hill's, but a blind man would've known this one was gone by the sound off the bat alone, with Heredia left to once again watch as the game took a turn for the worse for the M's.
Now with the lead, the Red Sox had a save situation to offer their returning closer in Craig Kimbrel. And man, this was pretty much prime Kimbrel. Wild, electric, unhittable Kimbrel. He wasn't perfect, but he did manage to do a nice job of fielding a swinging bunt in front of the plate for the first out before striking out Kyle Seager and Adam Lind on nasty curves bouncing in to Sandy Leon.
Unfortunately for Kimbrel, though, that still wasn't enough for the save. That first out pitch to Seager had fooled both the batter and the catcher, with Leon letting the ball get all the way into a dugout to put Seager on first. Now needing, effectively, a fourth out, Kimbrel struggled to find the zone against Mike Zunino, putting the tying run in scoring position for Shawn O'Malley. There, too, Leon would struggle, taking what was a certain strike three and instead turning it into ball two as he struggled to correct, knocking the pitch from the zone into the dirt. But Kimbrel brushed it off, and snapped off a curve in the zone to catch O'Malley looking, and give the Red Sox a win.
So that's two-in-a-row now ahead of Andrew Benintendi's arrival, and with a big performacne from Eduardo Rodriguez to boot. It would be nice to see the Sox score some more runs, and perhaps do so in less dramatic fashion for once. But for a team that did a lot of losing at the end of July, it's not terribly important if the wins are easy or if they're hard. Just so long as they keep coming.