This was the Drew Pomeranz the Red Sox traded for last summer. The offense didn’t get back to where we all expect them to be, but it didn’t matter. Their starter was too good to beat.
That was the story of the game on Tuesday. Heading into Drew Pomeranz’ first start of the season, expectations for the southpaw were low. It’s understandable. He was coming off an injury that led to a late start to his spring which was followed by a horrendous performance in the Grapefruit League. When you combine that with his underwhelming performance down the stretch last season, it’s reasonable to not have the highest of hopes for Pomeranz in 2017.
He quickly went to work on Tuesday to put those thoughts to rest. Right from the jump, he looked like a totally different pitcher than we saw this spring or even than we saw last year. His curveball was moving exactly as he wanted it to, and his fastball was sitting in the 92-93 mph range and even getting up to 95 mph. In the first inning he got two strikeouts with that fastball, with the second one coming on a 95 mph heater that blew by Mark Trumbo. He did walk Manny Machado in the frame, but that was all the damage that would be done as Pomeranz had his first inning under his belt.
The second inning got a little scary. He started things off by striking out Chris Davis, which was nice, but then he allowed a single to Welington Castillo. With the runner at first base, Trey Mancini crushed a fly ball to right-center field, but it just missed being a home run and instead went for a double off the wall. Castillo wasn’t fast enough to score -- his nickname is Beef, after all -- which was a blessing. Pomeranz came through in the tough situation, inducing a one-out pop up from Jonathan Schoop before ending things with a flyout to center.
From there, it was cruise control for Pomeranz. Starting with the third inning, he retired the next ten batters he faced with three strikeouts. After breaking that streak by allowing a double to Adam Jones, he got two more outs to finish off the sixth and hold on to his shutout.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox offense was having some troubles with Dylan Bundy, although not to the same extent as Baltimore’s with Pomeranz. They couldn’t get anything going in the first inning, but the full-strength lineup started looking a bit better in the second. Hanley Ramirez — in his first game back since succumbing to the flu — drew a walk to lead off the inning before being moved to third base on a double from Mitch Moreland. It was Moreland’s 180th doubles of the season.* After Xander Bogaerts struck out in the next at bat, it started to feel like it was going to be yet another blown opportunity for Boston’s offense. Instead, Pablo Sandoval took a low-and-outside pitch and muscled it deep enough into left field to score Ramirez on the sac fly. It was all they’d manage in the frame, but at least they got something.
* This stat may or may not be accurate.
After getting one base runner in each of the next two innings but failing to score, the Red Sox entered the bottom of the fifth holding on to their 1-0 lead. Once again, they found themselves with runners on second and third with one out, and this time it was Dustin Pedroia hitting a sacrifice fly to give the team its second run. Again, the sac flies weren’t ideal but given the way Pomeranz was dealing, it was enough.
Speaking of which, we jump ahead to the top of the seventh when John Farrell had a decision to make. With Chris Davis coming up, he had a choice between keeping Pomeranz in the game, turning to lefty Robby Scott in the bullpen or to righty Heath Hembree. He opted to keep Pomeranz in. It didn’t work out, but it was the right choice in this writer’s opinion. In fact, Pomeranz made a nice pitch to jam Davis, but the Orioles’ first baseman is just too strong and was able to fist a single to left field. That marked the end of Pomeranz’ dominant 2017 debut. Hembree came on and allowed a single to Castillo and a groundout that scored Davis to charge Pomeranz with his only run of the start. That was the Orioles could manage and they headed to the bottom of the seventh with Boston up 2-1.
This was the point in the game in which things started getting a little wacky. It started innocently enough with a ground out and then Sandoval drew a walk to end the night for Bundy. Honestly, when we saw Sandoval draw a walk we should have known some strange things were on the way. New Orioles pitcher Darren O’Day induced a double play ball from Chris Young in his first at bat, but J.J. Hardy totally muffed the routine play that should have ended the inning. Instead, there were two runners on and no outs. After that, Christian Vazquez hit a blooper to right field that Jonathan Schoop couldn’t quite pull in, loading the bases. From there, Pedroia came through with a two-run single and Benintendi scored one more with a single of his own. Just like that, the Red Sox had a comfortable 5-1 lead. They’d add three more in the eighth thanks to more...questionable defense from Baltimore, giving them an 8-1 lead they would not relinquish.
Overall, it was an extremely positive night for a Red Sox club that was desperate to get back home and get something closely resembling a full-strength roster. The offense (led by Christian Vazquez of all people) came through with a string of runs late in the game, although some of that was due to some absurdly bad defending by the Orioles. The bullpen continued to look better than it’s being given credit for. Hembree wasn’t great, but he held onto the lead. Matt Barnes came on for the eighth and was outstanding yet again. It’s safe to say he has a firm hold on the eighth inning job right now. Joe Kelly finished things off and also looked just fine in the process.
Of course, the biggest story of the night was Pomeranz. The expectations were so low for the lefty, but he showed last season in San Diego that the talent is there. We weren’t sure how healthy he was — never mind how good he was — but he showed he was more than fine on Tuesday. Baltimore’s lineup is no joke, particularly against lefties. You can’t make judgements off just one game, but Pomeranz looked great tonight in just about every way. If he can be anything close to this on a consistent basis, the Red Sox rotation just got a whole lot deeper.