Thursday afternoon was the makeup for last week’s rainout of the series finale for the season-opening three-game stint against the Pirates. For most of the game, the Red Sox looked like they wouldn’t be able to finish off the delayed sweep. Then, the eighth inning happened.
We’ll start at the beginning, though, where Rodriguez had a really rough first inning. The young lefty started things off with a walk of Jordy Mercer, and while he was able to strike out Starling Marte in the next at bat, the damage was about to come. That damage was in the form of one Andrew McCutchen, who didn’t look like he was entering his decline phase in this particular at bat. Rodriguez left a fastball right over the heart of the plate for the former MVP and McCutchen took full advantage by putting it right into the Monster Seats. Just like that, the Red Sox were looking at a 2-0 deficit. Things didn’t get much better to finish off the frame, either. The next two batters, Gregory Polanco and David Freese, each singled on line drives and it looked like Pittsburg was about to do even more damage. Fortunately, Rodriguez settled down and got two more strikeouts to end the inning and keep the Pirates’ lead at two.
From there, Rodriguez was able to grind through the rest of his outing and let John Farrell avoid going to his bullpen early for the second straight game. He set down the side in order in the second. The third started off with a walk, but Christian Vazquez caught Marte stealing with an absolute bullet to second base, and Rodriguez only had to face three batters in the inning. After allowing just one batter to reach in the next two innings, we were on to the sixth.
At this point in the game, the Red Sox had cut the Pirates’ lead in half. While the bats would be mostly quiet against Kuhl they did do some damage in the second. Mitch Moreland, and this may surprise you, led off the inning with a double off the wall in center field. It was the first baseman’s seventh consecutive game with a double, which I don’t need to tell you is just bananas. Xander Bogaerts couldn’t come through with the hit to knock him in, but Marco Hernandez had his back. The utility infielder got the start at third base on Thursday, and in his first at bat he launched a double off the Monster to knock in Moreland and give Boston their first run of the game, and their only run for a long while.
Through five innings, the Red Sox had just one baserunner against Kuhl that didn’t come in that second frame. In fact, at one point the Pirates’ starter retired 13 Red Sox in a row. Not great.
That brings us to the sixth, where Rodriguez came back out to start despite nearing the 100 pitch mark. Things started off well enough, as he got McCutchen to strike out swinging for Ed’s eighth K of the day. Unfortunately, that was was followed up by a double from Polanco that was crushed into the right field wall. After walking Freese, Rodriguez’ day was over. Heath Hembree came in with two runners on and was looking to shut things down without adding the Pittsburgh’s lead. This time, it was a rare defensive miscue from Vazquez. On a strikeout of Josh Harrison, both runners were off on the pitch and Vazquez tossed a wild third towards third base to try to get Polanco. The ball sailed into left field and he’d score, giving Pittsburgh a 3-1 lead. Hembree got out of the inning without any more damage after a quick ground out.
The Red Sox still couldn’t get anything going against Kuhl, though. They had one base runner in the seventh, but couldn’t drive in Mookie Betts after his single. Hembree came back out for the seventh inning, and after getting the first out he allowed a double to Chris Stewart and a single to Jordy Mercer to put runners on the corners with one down. The righty got both Polanco and McCutchen out, though, and the score remained the same.
In the bottom half of the inning, Kuhl came back out and immediately got Mr. Double Mitch Moreland to strike out swinging. After Bogaerts reached on a line drive single to third base, Pittsburgh mercifully went to their bullpen, bringing in the left-handed Felipe Rivero in to face Hernandez. It seemed like getting Kuhl out of the game might be just what the doctor ordered, but things didn’t work out that way. At least not right away. Hernandez would hit into a fielder’s choice that cut Bogaerts out at second, and Vazquez ended the inning by grounding out to third.
Matt Barnes came on for the eighth, and while he did walk Freese (who walked three times in the game), he otherwise tossed a clean inning. This was another example of Barnes putting to rest many of the eighth-inning worries from the start of the season.
When the bottom half of the inning came around, everything changed. The Pirates brought in their set-up man, Daniel Hudson, to hold on to their two-run lead. It did not work out. He did get a quick ground out from Brock Holt, but followed that up with a four-pitch walk to Pedroia. After that, Benintendi hit a little bloop to center field to put two on, although Pedroia did almost get tossed out at second base. That would be it for Hudson, as Clint Hurdle called upon Juan Nicasio to finish off the inning. Nicasio threw a four-pitch walk of his own, this time to Betts, and that loaded the bases for Ramirez.
Boston’s DH didn’t blow this chance, crushing a double to the warning track in center field, almost clearing the bases. Pedroia and Benintendi did score to tie the game, but Betts was thrown out at home. He probably could have scored, but Benintendi was tagging up at second base in case the ball was caught. This put Betts right on his heels, slowing Betts down. If Benintendi had stood halfway between the bags on the play, Betts probably gets more momentum and gives Boston the 4-3 lead.
Either way, the score was tied and Ramirez was on third. The Pirates opted to put Moreland on for free to get to Bogaerts with runners on the corners and two outs. Like Ramirez, the Red Sox shortstop came through, hitting a single to right field to give Boston the 4-3 lead. Hernandez couldn’t keep the rally going, but Boston got their first lead of the game and turned to Craig Kimbrel for the ninth.
As always, the Red Sox closer made things a little scary, but he came through in the end. Things started off with a leadoff single. Next up was Francisco Cervelli, and he hit a ball that looked for sure like it was leading the yard. Instead, Betts caught it right in front of the bullpen wall for out number one. During the next at bat, Frazier went for second and Vazquez made up for his earlier error by throwing a quick-release bullet to gun him down. Pedroia also deserves a ton of credit for that out, as the throw was high but he got the tag down quickly. Kimbrel then got an easy ground ball to second base, and the game was over.
It wasn’t pretty all the way through, and it looked like we’d be talking about another frustrating day for the struggling Red Sox offense. Instead, they put together another late-game rally and went home with the win. Ramirez is obviously the hero of this one with his game-tying triple, but Rodriguez deserves a ton of credit as well. He avoided an implosion, which it looked like this would be early on, and got through five strong innings. The control was a little off, but he had his strikeout stuff going and kept the game close enough for long enough to win. It was delayed, but the season-opening sweep of the Pirates is complete.