The Red Sox made it seven straight tonight with a victory over the Orioles, taking a five-game lead in the East with only 10 games left to play.
But for one swing, this game really wouldn’t feel like it belonged in a September playoff push between two contenders. A matchup of Clay Buchholz and Ubaldo Jimenez promised nothing beautiful and, frankly, it didn’t really provide anything beautiful either. The lasting image of Buchholz’ outing should probably be a fly ball to the wall grabbed by Jackie Bradley Jr. For Jimenez, it’s all about Travis Shaw watching a waist-high 89 MPH fastball for strike three.
Long story short: it was ugly, and not because the starters were making it look ugly. Long story longish: Ubaldo got out of a bases loaded jam in the first thanks in part to a questionable strike call from the umpire. Then Buchholz loaded them up to start the third on a bloop a bunt and a base on balls and proceeded to get out of it with just a sacrifice fly allowed. We had catchers interference, a GIDP with the bases juiced from Sandy Leon, and a whole bunch of strikeouts from the Red Sox against a junkballing Jimenez who seemed to be daring the best offense in baseball to crush him and somehow getting away with it.
For a brief moment, though, an impending ugly loss for the Red Sox was transformed into an impending ugly win. With two down and the bases loaded in the sixth, Sandy Leon hit a soft ground ball towards first, where Chris Davis came off the bag to field it. Reliever Brad Bach covered, but Davis’ throw was low and wild, allowing both David Ortiz and Mookie Betts to score on the error to make it 2-1.
It was a lead the Red Sox would take if not be horribly proud of. And if the game had ended here, we’d be talking about a win that everyone would be happy to have, but reluctant to really talk about in any great detail. Thankfully, the extra out allowed Andrew Benintendi to come to the plate, and when Bach tried to bury a fastball inside against him, Benintendi cleaned it right out and cleared that big wall in right field. One truly excellent swing of the bat took an ugly, close lead for the Red Sox and made it a beautiful four-run advantage.
Where the Red Sox got their big swing, the Orioles were left without. Buchholz made it through seven in an outing which saw him survive quite a few long fly balls, but the first portion—the survive bit—is really the most important part right now. No matter how he went about it, Buchholz threw seven innings of one-run ball against one of the league’s better offenses, and has officially put the challenge to Drew Pomeranz for that spot in the October rotation.
That led into a quick inning of work for Brad Ziegler, and a ninth-inning appearance for Craig Kimbrel out of an abundance of caution more than anything else. And why not be cautious with this one? The win makes it a five-game lead for the Red Sox thanks to the fall of the Jays in Seattle, and six over the Orioles. It’s entirely reasonable to not want to call this thing with ten games left, but if Boston’s lead is not yet prohibitive, it must at least be just about there. With seven straight wins during one of the most important stretches of their schedule, they’ve taken a commanding lead on the division with just 10 games to go. The Red Sox clearly have their sights set on the ALDS, and look very much like a team that deserves to be there.