clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Red Sox 8, Rays 6: Hanley and Hill help Sox overcome pitching woes

New, comments

Hanley Ramirez and Aaron Hill took what could have been a pretty devastating loss and turned it into a much-needed win for the Red Sox Wednesday afternoon.

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

There were two very low points indeed in this game. The first came when Steven Wright allowed his second of three home runs in the game. The first-inning bomb was bothersome, but given that he'd surrendered five in the first the last time he took the mound, it wasn't exactly crushing. The two-run shot in the second, on the other hand, was something of a gut punch. No weather to blame, no rust, just Wright being looking bad again. To this point, there's been enough positives and excuses for Wright's up-and-down nature since the All-Star Break that Sox fans could sort of ignore it. That homer, however, felt a bit like the last shove needed to push us into real concern territory.

The third, to make it 4-1? Kind of just confirmation.

When the defense was actually given a chance to prevent runs, though, they were doing a bang-up job of things. Mookie Betts in particular put in a lot of work towards saving this game before it was theirs to save, gunning down Kevin Kiermaier trying to stretch a single into two bases in the fourth and, most importantly, doing so before Tim Beckham could cross home plate on the hit, ending the inning and keeping the run from scoring.

That run seemed huge when the Red Sox finally got to Drew Smyly. Through the end of four, the Sox had produced one big hit: a solo shot from Xander Bogaerts in the bottom of the first to tie the game. Finally, the fifth saw them get something going again, with leadoff singles from Jackie Bradley Jr. and Dustin Pedroia to give the middle of the order a prime scoring opportunity. As they had so often done in the past, though, the Sox seemed ready to waste it. Bogaerts was not only unable to replicate his first-inning feat, but couldn't even move the runners along, striking out after getting ahead in the count 3-1. David Ortiz at least made contact, but his lazy fly to left gave Corey Dickerson no trouble. Mookie, at least, was able to prolong the inning, drawing a walk to load the bases and bringing Hanley Ramirez to the plate. Perhaps sensing Smyly wouldn't want to risk falling behind after the walk, he jumped on a first-pitch fastball and rocketed it into the third row of Monster seats. Just like that, it was 5-4. The next inning saw Jackie Bradley Jr. go deep as well, putting the Sox up 6-4.

That brings us to our second low point: the eighth. Let's get through this quickly, because there's a lot I'd like to unpack afterwards. With so few arms available, Fernando Abad was left in to handle the inning after recording the final out of the seventh. It started with the ugliest of hits--a dribbler to first that Abad hesitated on slightly as it ended up in no man's land between him and Ramirez, letting Nick Franklin reach. Abad got fly balls from Souza and Dickerson, but loaded the bases with walks to Tim Beckham and Matt Duffy, bringing Junichi Tazawa into the game. Tazawa delivered a 1-2 fastball to Forsythe, and Forsythe slapped it up the middle to erase the lead.

A lot is going to be made about how the eighth inning was handled in terms of decisions. And, certainly, Tazawa pumping a hittable fastball on a 1-2 count (this team doesn't really seem to get the hitter's count, pitcher's count dynamic at times) was pretty miserable. But in terms of management decisions, the real mistakes were made outside of this game. Outside of any game, really.

Yes, it would've been nice had Craig Kimbrel come in and prevented the Rays from erasing the lead. But it's also not too hard to understand why he wasn't warming up. Kimbrel had thrown 22 pitches on Tuesday in an inning he was given largely due to not having pitched in quite some time. Ideally those (necessary) innings are short and easy and don't have any impact down the line, but this one didn't work out that way, and asking him for four outs would not only require the obvious additional pitches in the eighth, but also involved him warming up well in advance during the eighth, and ultimately still more warmup pitches to get ready again for the ninth. That he was off for a decent stretch ahead of all that wouldn't much change the likelihood that Kimbrel would run out of gas, possibly well before the ninth was over--a risk Farrell would have had to commit to taking well before the eighth actually spiraled out of control for Abad given the need to get him warm.

The problem is more that Junichi Tazawa was the one called on. And, to be more specific, that he was the guy in the bullpen available to be called on. With Ziegler out with the flu, Buchholz having been used heavily the last few days, and the Sox having already used Ross, Barnes, and now Abad in making up for Wright's short start, John Farrell didn't really have other options. Tazawa was just the name that was left. He probably shouldn't be. This is where the Sox should have had a Martin or a Scott or a Shepherd to try out. Or, rather, they should have had them in earlier when it was 4-1, leaving the slightly more reliable side of the bullpen to take the important out here. Instead, it was Tazawa, and there went the lead.

Alright, so that's the top of the eighth. The good news is that we can talk about that a bit dispassionately because it didn't lose the game for the Red Sox. In the bottom of the inning, Hanley once again contributed to the cause by drawing a leadoff walk from Erasmo Ramirez. A sacrifice bunt from the cold Sandy Leon moved Ramirez into scoring position, though he wouldn't actually manage to come home when Brock Holt singled into left field. That, too, would fail to prove a serious problem, though, as Aaron Hill singled through the right side to bring Ramirez home and give the Sox the lead. A hard ground ball down the right field line from Jackie Bradley Jr. followed, making it an 8-6 Red Sox lead before the inning was over.

That, finally, brings us to the inning Kimbrel actually did pitch in, and thankfully the one reliable member of the bullpen did his job. Three quick outs, a save, and a series win. Thank the baseball gods.