With a four-game lead in the American League East, facing the pitcher who had completely shut them down in his last start, and with one of their less certain arms on the mound, this was the game the Sox could easily lose in this series against the Orioles and not really feel too bad about it. It would be an expected loss, and one they’d more than earned by winning their last five, including the opener of this series, to open a relatively wide lead on the division.
And on the other hand, if they won? If they managed to defeat Kevin Gausman? If Eduardo Rodriguez managed to quiet the team that traded him and move the Sox five up on Baltimore? Well, it’d leave the Sox looking pretty damn invincible.
They are not that. This is baseball, and even the best teams usually come up well short of winning two-thirds of their games. But they are certainly winners. Winners tonight and, every day now, closer to being winners of the East.
Tonight it was Rodriguez who looked untouchable, not Gausman. This was not the Rodriguez who struggled so mightily against the Yankees, but closer to the one who dominated the Athletics. Once again he toyed with history, not allowing a baserunner until the fourth, when he walked Manny Machado, and keeping the O’s without a hit until there were two outs in the fifth, when the debuting Trey Mancini put the Orioles on the board with a solo shot.
The way Gausman pitched in his last outing, that homer would’ve been enough for him to work with. Tonight, though, the Sox had a big more going on. They’d missed out on opportunities to get on the board in both the first and second with Travis Shaw and Sandy Leon hitting the ball reasonably hard, but right to fielders with runners in scoring position. In the third, though, they got their runners in position earlier, with a bloop from Mookie Betts and a single from David Ortiz enabling Hanley Ramirez to bring a run home on a weak ground ball out to the left of the mound. One inning later, and Jackie Bradley Jr. was putting a rather more emphatic run on the board, homering to center field, and outproducing the entire lineup from Gausman’s previous start with one single swing.
So Mancini’s homer would only get the Orioles within one, and before they could push across another run, the Red Sox opened the game up in earnest. And who else would it be to break this one wide—
OK, wait, some qualifiers are needed. Imagine this is not Camden Yards and the team that Mookie Betts so loves to destroy before answering this question. Otherwise you’ll get it wrong.
Who would it be to break this one wide open in the seventh?
David Ortiz, obviously. Marco Hernandez and Mookie Betts (well, of course he played some part) opened the inning with ringing singles, and while Gausman was able to come back and strike out Xander Bogaerts on some overwhelming high heat, that still left him facing Boston’s most dangerous bat. Already, Ortiz had hit a ball to the wall that had everyone watching the game positive it was gone off the bat. This time nobody was fooled. Ortiz caught up to a 97 MPH heater low-and-away, and sent it where nobody was catching it, over the wall in center to make it 5-1 to the Red Sox.
Eduardo Rodriguez did seem to run out of gas in the bottom of the inning, allowing a near-homer to Jonathan Schoop for two bases and a line drive to Matt Wieters that thankfully headed straight to Travis Shaw at third. That brought Matt Barnes into the game and, well, it’s hard to really blame him for the end of the September streak of allowing no inherited runners to score. Ultimately it was an excuse-me ground ball from J.J. Hardy that didn’t even make it as far as the mound that let Schoop come in to score.
Still, that just made it a three-run game. And after a seeing-eye single from Hyun Soo Kim kept the inning going, the Sox turned to Ziegler, who gave them the out they needed to end the inning. Koji Uehara continued his return-to-form with a clean eighth, and the Red Sox had Craig Kimbrel to finish off the win in the ninth.
The Red Sox haven’t won anything just yet. Well, nothing other than 87 games. But we’re getting closer and closer to prohibitive territory. And if they’re going to win matchups like this...who’s going to stop them?