Finally, the power shows up. Combine that kind of offense with the stellar effort put forth by Eduardo Rodriguez, and baby you got a stew goin’.
We’ll start with the fireworks in the eighth, though, because that’s probably going to be the main story out of this game. I already shared my thoughts on retaliation against Manny Machado earlier this weekend, and unsurprisingly the Red Sox did end up throwing at the Orioles star late on Sunday. In the eighth inning, Matt Barnes threw one that ended up going behind Machado’s head. The ball actually hit the bat and went as a strike, but the intent was somewhat clear. Barnes was trying to hit Machado and was rightfully ejected. He’ll almost certainly be suspended for a few games, too.
Now, I don’t think Barnes was trying to throw at Machado’s head. Pitchers are generally smart enough to avoid that area in these kinds of situations. With that being said, this is precisely why throwing at opponents is so dangerous. Hitting a spot is hard for a pitcher. We see offerings miss their targets all the time. It’s no different when they’re throwing inside, except instead of it just being a ball if you miss high it goes at the head. It’s a dangerous play, and it should have been avoided. In all likelihood, this will carry later into the year. These two play each other again in the beginning of May.
Before all that, as the Red Sox got ready to play this afternoon and attempt to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Orioles, the big question was whether or not the offense would be able to make any noise at all in this series. Their recent play had, predictably, brought out the cries for David Ortiz. In this game, they quickly got to work putting those cries further into the background as they showed there is still some power potential in this lineup without the legendary slugger.
With Kevin Gausman on the mound on Sunday, Boston’s hitters had a chance to get going against a talented pitcher who has been going through some struggles this season. They didn’t waste much time, with Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi hitting back-to-back singles to start the game. With those two on, Mookie Betts got a fastball down and in and sent it into the first row of seats in left-center field. It wasn’t the farthest home run Betts has ever hit, but it was a great piece of hitting and it put the Red Sox up 3-0 before they even recorded an out.
They weren’t done, though. Hanley Ramirez was the next batter, and he got a hanging slider right over the heart of the plate. His dinger was a little more emphatic, going far over the wall in left field to give the Red Sox back-to-back home runs and a 4-0 lead. This is a team that has been struggling mightily to score early runs lately. For the last week or two, they’ve seemingly been playing behind in every game. It was fabulous to see them hand Rodriguez a 4-0 lead before he even threw a pitch.
After that four-run first, the lineup reverted to their frustrating selves again for a few frames. They’d load the bases in the second without scoring a run and they had two runners in scoring position for Betts in the fifth before he grounded out to end the inning. In the fifth, though, Mitch Moreland snapped his mini-slump by taking a low splitter and putting it over the fence in center field.
Overall, despite some frustrating moments, it was clearly a good day for the offense. They’ve struggled to hit home runs all year, but they were able to get three big ones in this game. Even better, they came from Betts, Ramirez and Moreland. The latter has been good most of the year, but had been struggling of late. The first two are arguably the two most important hitters in this lineup, and they have been in a major funk for awhile and in this series in particular. Getting them back on track will go a long way towards getting the offense going. Benintendi didn’t hit any home runs, but he had at least four hits for the first time in his young career (and he finished with five). I’m going to go out on a limb and say it won’t be the last time.
For all of the promising offense, though, it was Rodriguez that shone the brightest for the Red Sox on Saturday. He was on his game early, and stayed strong enough to get through six scoreless innings. His first turn through the order was perfect, as he set down all nine Orioles starters in a row in a run that included four strikeouts. Against the righty-heavy Baltimore lineup, he threw almost exclusively fastballs and changeups. That’s a strategy I don’t usually like to see from Rodriguez, but it worked wonders today.
He would lose his perfect game bid against Craig Gentry, who led off the fourth inning with a walk. He was able to get three straight outs after that, though, including two more strikeouts to add to his tally. The no-hitter was lost to Chris Davis leading off the next frame, and although there was another walk mixed into the fifth as well the Orioles weren’t able to plate any runners.
That brought us to the sixth, where Rodriguez was starting to run into trouble. While he’d pitched well all day, he’d had some long at bats and was inefficient with his pitches at times, getting him close to 100 pitches to start the inning. He’d hit the mark during the frame, and he was clearly getting tired. Gentry led things off with another walk, and after Bradley made a great catch on a hard-hit line drive, Rodriguez issued another walk. After walking his third batter of the inning and allowing the bases to become full of Orioles, John Farrell opted to keep his starter in rather than turn to his tired bullpen. It was a decision I was skeptical with, but it worked out as Trey Mancini grounded out to Pablo Sandoval and Rodriguez was out of the jam.
The young lefty had some control issues throughout this game, but overall it was an outstanding performance when the Red Sox needed one. Steven Wright is obviously looking a bit shaky right now, so Boston needs some stability elsewhere in the rotation. It’s too early to put a “stable” label (poet, don’t even know it, etc.) on Rodriguez, but pitching like this against a powerful, right-handed lineup like Baltimore’s is a hell of a step in the right direction.
Things got a little scary for the Red Sox in the ninth, as Fernando Abad allowed a run and the Orioles were suddenly within four with runners on base. Farrell had to call upon Craig Kimbrel to get the game’s final out.
In other news, Sandoval was lifted after ending the inning on Mancini’s ground out. He was replaced in the infield with Selsky, which is indicative of how shallow Boston’s infield depth is right now. The official word is that Sandoval left with a sprain in his right knee. It’s unclear how much time he’ll have to miss, but if he and/or Dustin Pedroia are still unavailable on Tuesday, some sort of roster move will have to be made.
The Red Sox got the win, and there were many positives from this game. The bats finally got going, with three home runs and a five-hit day for Benintendi. Rodriguez was incredible for most of outing, too. Unfortunately, they lost Barnes prematurely and probably for another few games. Losing Sandoval isn’t great, either. The Red Sox will take the win, but it came at a cost.