When we looked ahead to this matchup, this was clearly the most difficult game in this three-game series. Brian Johnson was making his first major-league start since 2015, while Marcus Stroman is coming off a World Baseball Classic MVP award. However, the former out-pitched the latter and gave the Red Sox exactly what they were looking for in a winning performance.
With Johnson on the mound, the Red Sox offense had to be feeling some pressure to get some early runs on the board and give the young, inexperienced lefty a bit of breathing room to start the game. It didn’t really work out, as Andrew Benintendi followed up a leadoff single from Xander Bogaerts with a double play, and the Red Sox eventually went down after just three batters in the first.
So, Johnson had to take the hill in a 0-0 tie, but it didn’t stay that way for very long. It was easily his worst inning of the outing, and it put Boston in an early hole. The trouble started right away, with leadoff hitter Kevin Pillar ripping a double down the third base line to start off the bottom of the first. After striking out Jose Bautista to conclude a tough eleven-pitch at bat, Johnson gave up a hard-hit single to Kendrys Morales and the Blue Jays had an early 1-0 lead. After another single, they’d put another run on the board with an RBI double from Justin Smoak on a ball that just missed going over the fence for a three-run homer. After that Johnson took control back in the frame and left it with the deficit still at two.
The Red Sox would come out in the top half of the second and get a couple of base runners on a single and a walk, but they couldn’t get anything else going and left the inning with the 2-0 lead still intact for Toronto. Johnson, meanwhile, got himself into a little more trouble in the bottom half of the frame, allowing a walk and a double (another one for Pillar) after recording the first out. John Farrell opted to walk Jose Bautista after that with one out (a decision I disagreed with at the time), and it ended up working. With the bases loaded, Morales struck out and Troy Tulowitzki lined out and Johnson escaped the jam without allowing a run.
In the next half inning, the Red Sox offense finally got something going against Marcus Stroman. After Marco Hernandez struck out to lead off the inning, Bogaerts, Benintendi and Betts all singled to start the inning. Betts’ single scored one, and the throw home allowed him to advance to second to put two runners in scoring position. Hanley Ramirez couldn’t come through in the big spot, but Mitch Moreland was up to the task. He hit a single on a liner to left field, scoring both Benintendi and Betts and giving the Red Sox a 3-2 lead. All hail Mitch Moreland, tbh.
Unfortunately, that lead would not last very long. On the very first pitch of the bottom of the third, Johnson left a high-80’s fastball up in the zone to Smoak and the Blue Jays’ first baseman put it over the fence in left-center field. Just like that, the game was tied at three. That was all Johnson would give up in that inning, and he’d get through the fourth without any damage, too.
That brings us to the fifth, where the Red Sox once again were able to find some success against Stroman. Benintendi would get out on a swinging bunt to lead off the frame, but then the rally began. Betts started it off with another hard-hit single, and then Ramirez finally got a big hit. It didn’t quite make it out of the park — although it was extremely close — but it bounced off the wall and resulted in an RBI double to give the Red Sox another one-run lead. Immediately following that, Moreland got sick of hitting singles and got back to his double-hitting ways, scoring Ramirez and extending Boston’s lead to two. After Chris Young grounded out to give the Red Sox their second out, Stroman’s day was over and the lefty Aaron Loup was coming in to face Pablo Sandoval with a runner in scoring position. Despite the platoon disadvantage, Sandoval came through with a solid single to score Moreland, and Boston would leave the inning with a 6-3 lead.
Johnson came back out for the fifth, and started it off with two quick outs. It didn’t stay so smooth, as he gave up a solo homer to the struggling Russell Martin to cut the lead back down to two. That was all the damage that would be done, though, and Johnson would end the inning with a 6-4 lead. That was all we’d see from the lefty in this one, and while he wasn’t sharp all the way through, he was certainly good enough and gave the Red Sox about all they could expect in this circumstance.
From there, it was up to the bullpen. Heath Hembree was called upon first, taking the sixth inning with that same 6-4 lead. He’d allow two base runners, but prevented either of them from crossing the plate. In the top half of the seventh, the Red Sox were able to tack on another insurance run. This time, it came in the form of a solo dinger from Betts, his first of the year, on an absolute rocket to left field. It was nice to see after the lineup’s been so bereft of power of late.
After going down in order after the homer, Hembree came back out for Boston in the seventh, trying to preserve the bullpen a bit and keep the lead intact. Things got a little scary, but he got through it. After a single put one on, Hembree got two quick outs and looked to have the third on a grounder to shortstop. Instead, Bogaerts took it a little too easy on the play and the ball went under his glove and into left field. That put two on for Darwin Barney, who hit a little tapper down the first base line. It seems like it could go for a hit, but Hembree made an athletic play at the first base line to get Barney for the last out of the inning.
Boston would tack on another run in the eighth, and Toronto was lucky that was it. With two runners on, Benintendi ripped a ball into the right-center field gap. It bounced over the fence, though, giving him a groundrule double and stopping Hernandez at third.
That was pretty much it, though. Fernando Abad got a couple outs in the eighth, albeit with a double and some hard contact mixed in. From there, Matt Barnes came in and got a quick out to finish off the eighth. The ninth wasn’t quite as simply. After two very quick outs to start the inning, he walked Martin, who got to second on defensive indifference. After Steve Pearce hit a single, the Blue Jays were back within three. Next up was pinch hitter Ezequiel Carrera who hit a two-run homer to left field to cut the lead to one. All of a sudden, it was panic time. Fortunately, Barnes came through for one more out, getting Travis to line out softly to short to end the game.
The Red Sox got what they needed from Brian Johnson, and the offense put together an impressive performance against a tough opponent in Stroman. What’s particularly impressive is that it was a full team effort on offense. The big bats, specifically, all came through with good games. That’s four in a row for Boston, and this team is officially rolling.