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Red Sox 3, Tigers 2: Sox survive by an inch

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With one inch difference, the Red Sox may still be playing, rather than enjoying their eighth win in nine games.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Detroit Tigers Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox had to face two of the issues that have been haunting them most in recent months. On offense: squandered opportunities. On the mound: just about any inning pitched by the bullpen. And while they didn’t quite answer either issue perfectly, they did just enough to take a lead into the ninth, where they managed to survive by about an inch.

First off, offensive waste. It started early for the Red Sox with Hanley Ramirez unable to make good on a couple two-out hits in the first. But the third was where things got particularly bad, even as the Sox took the lead. For the twentieth time this season, Boston would put the first three batters on, leaving them with the bases loaded and zero outs. Believe it or not, while it feels like they’ve done nothing but screw this situation up of late, the Sox actually entered the game hitting .400/.316/.667 in those 19 at bats.

This one, however, did not help that figure. While the Sox were hoping to blow the game open, they had to settle for just the one run, with Mookie Betts grounding into a double play, bringing that one run in even as the teeth were taken out of the inning.

Two innings later, David Ortiz would make up for some of that waste. With Xander Bogaerts on base, Daniel Norris gave Ortiz a hanging slider right in his wheelhouse. It’s just not a pitch you can throw to Papi, and expect anything other than what Norris got: a towering shot deep into the stands in right field, good for a 3-1 lead.

With the way Drew Pomeranz was pitching, the Red Sox were probably hoping three runs would be enough, and to that end, that they would only need a couple innings at most out of their bullpen. While the lefty hadn’t managed to shut the Tigers down after the Red Sox took the lead in the third, surrendering a solo shot to James McCann to start the bottom half of the inning, he had otherwise allowed only the one single through the first four innings. The fifth would start with a couple of base hits from the Tigers, but with Pomeranz getting McCann back with a double play ball, he finished the frame with just over 50 pitches on his arm, leaving even a complete game within the realm of possibility.

Or at least it would have been had the rain not suddenly come in force. And unlike against the Orioles, this rain wasn’t due to stay any longer than it took to knock the starting pitchers out of the game. When the clock struck 11, the teams took the field again, with the Red Sox facing the prospect of four innings from their suspect bullpen.

The first of those didn’t go too badly. Heath Hembree worked through the sixth without trouble, then even got Victor Martinez out to start the seventh. But the attempt to get two out of Hembree would backfire when J.D. Martinez continued to give the Red Sox all sorts of trouble, cleaning out the very next pitch for a solo shot to left, bringing the Tigers within one.

Brad Ziegler would clean up the rest of the seventh, bringing Matt Barnes into action for the eighth. He, too, would struggle to put up a clean inning, alternating easy outs with free passes, putting two men on for Miguel Cabrera and leaving John Farrell to turn to Craig Kimbrel for a four-out save.

This was no easy save for Kimbrel. Not even close. He would get Miguel Cabrera, but the out came on a rocket line drive that thankfully headed straight to Andrew Benintendi in Left. His first out of the ninth would be awfully similar, with Victor Martinez blasting one right to Mookie in right. That brought J.D. Martinez back up to bat, but for once, he was not the problem, going down on strikes as Kimbrel dropped the hammer with a nasty curveball.

Then came the inch that saved the game. After getting ahead of Justin Upton 0-2, Kimbrel let the count run even as he tried to get Upton to chase a bad pitch. Upton remained patient, however, and on the fifth pitch of the at bat, launched one deep to center field. Upton seemed to have little doubt that he’d just tied the game, but Jackie Bradley Jr. thought he had a chance, going for the leaping grab at the wall as Upton leisurely rounded first. Bradley was more correct than Upton, but still couldn’t quite time the jump right, just missing the ball as it bounced off the very top of the face of the wall in center. They say baseball is a game of inches, but it may not have taken more than one to turn this double into a home run.

But a double it was, with Bradley getting the ball back in in a hurry, and that left Casey McGehee with work to do if he wanted to prolong the game. He made Kimbrel work for it a fair bit, but once again, Kimbrel finished things off with a sharp curve to end the at bat, the inning, and the night, all in Boston’s favor.

Unfortunately, if the Red Sox are going to take this series, they’ll have to do so behind Henry Owens tomorrow, with Eduardo Rodriguez’ hamstring remaining enough of a bother to keep him from taking the mound. With the way things have gone this series, though, between this and the travel issues in game one, it’s almost a miracle the Sox are guaranteed at least a split. Just imagine if they can actually go out and win one more.