I told you this already in spring training, but I’ll tell you again. Sandy Leon hears all those things you’re saying about him. He wasn’t about to let Chris Sale’s incredible debut go to waste.
All of the anticipation before the game, of course, was around Sale’s first in a Red Sox uniform. It was a momentous occasion, and the new ace wouldn’t let us down. Even with the big expectations for the southpaw, Sale found a way to blow everyone away. Over the seven innings he pitched, the Pirates never really had any moments in which they appeared to be knocking on the door. Perhaps the closest instance to this came in the top of the fifth inning when Josh Harrison smacked a ball off the Monster with one out. It looked like it would go for extra bases, but Andrew Benintendi played it masterfully, got the ball back in quickly and held Harrison to a single. The very next batter would hit into an inning-ending double play.
Besides that, this was just Sale dominating a Pirates lineup that was utterly overmatched. He was doing things like this.
Early Chris Sale scouting report: Pretty good pic.twitter.com/M6nZD2y7Y4— Sox Lunch (@Soxlunch) April 5, 2017
chris sale did this to one of the best hitters in baseball pic.twitter.com/eglviHpn0q— Joon Lee (@iamjoonlee) April 5, 2017
In case you hadn’t noticed, both of those hitters were Starling Marte, who happens to be one of the best hitters in the National League. Sale would finish with seven strikeouts and just one walk over his seven innings of work.
Of course, on the other side of things the Red Sox weren’t having any success of their own against Pirates starter Jameson Taillon. To be fair, this was not all on Boston’s lineup. The young Pittsburgh hurler — who was actually taken ahead of Sale in the 2010 draft — was on his A-game for his 2017 debut. His two-seamer was darting all over the place, and he was showing good command with the curveball. He struck out six batters himself over his seven shutout innings.
With that being said, the Red Sox did have a couple of chances against Taillon. The best chance probably came in the third inning, when Sandy Leon started what looked like it could be a two-out rally with a double. Immediately after that, Dustin Pedroia poked a single through the right side. Unfortunately, Leon ran right through a stop sign from Brian Butterfield and was nailed at the plate. The good news is Boston’s catcher stayed in the game despite looking shaken up on the play.
A couple innings later, in the bottom half of the fifth, Boston got their first two runners on with Chris Young drawing a leadoff walk and moving over to third on a Jackie Bradley single. From there, Taillon shut things down with a couple of strikeouts and a weak groundout to escape the inning unscathed. That’s just the kind of day it was, with the combination of good pitching, bad weather* and bad luck resulting in a runless environment.
*There were at least three balls I can think of off the top of my head that appeared to have died in the cold skies that looked as if they could have left the yard on a summer night. Two of those were off the bat of Mitch Moreland.
We entered the eighth inning with both teams ready to go to their bullpens. Given the state of Boston’s relief corps, this didn’t appear to be a great thing for them. However, things started off smoothly. Despite his rough outing on Opening Day, Matt Barnes got the first call to start the eighth inning and tossed a 1-2-3 inning. After the Red Sox went down in order in the bottom half of the inning, Craig Kimbrel came on in a non-save situation.
As we all learned last year, this isn’t the ideal spot for Boston’s closer. Luckily, that didn’t manifest itself on this occasion. Kimbrel did allow a baserunner, but it came on an error by Pablo Sandoval. After being helped out by an inexplicable bunt attempt by Marte that was popped up for an out, Kimbrel got some help from a diving Pedroia for the second out before finishing things off with another ground out. Unfortunately, once again the Red Sox went down in order in the bottom half of the inning, and we were heading for extras.
Hembree started the tenth for Boston, and was helped out in a big way by his defense. First, he had Xander Bogaerts do this behind him.
Xander. Range. pic.twitter.com/SitgT7jgcO— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) April 6, 2017
After that, Benintendi made another masterful play off the wall in left field to hold yet another should-be double to a single. From there, Hembree did his job to induce a pop-up and Robby Scott finished off the inning by striking out Phil Gosselin.
It was at this point the Red Sox would really push for the game’s first run. With Pirates closer Tony Watson on the hill, Jackie Bradley started the rally with a one-out single and Leon continued it with another single that’d push Bradley to third. This brought Pedroia up with two outs, and he’d walk to load the bases and give Benintendi to be a hero. Unfortunately, he couldn’t come through and stranded everyone with a groundout.
The eleventh would go the same way as the rest of the game, as would the top of the twelfth. There was some good defense, including a ridiculous sliding grab by Bradley, but it was mostly just good pitching on both ends. Finally, it ended in the bottom of the twelfth. Once again, it was Bradley starting the rally, this time with a walk. He was then gifted second base when Antonio Bastardo had the Red Sox outfielder picked off but the Pirates defense couldn’t make a good throw to get the running Bradley at second base. After Sandoval drew a walk, up to the plate came Leon. With one swing, he ended it.
SLAMMIN SANDY FOR THE WIN pic.twitter.com/24YFpzKHkg— Sox Lunch (@Soxlunch) April 6, 2017
This wasn’t a perfect game, and for the second straight game the Red Sox offense could only produce offense in one inning. Of course, it’s also April and the weather is freezing. More important is that both Rick Porcello and Sale have looked good in their first starts — with the latter looking better than just good — and the bullpen put together a huge game. It wasn’t the prettiest, but it was a win. 162-0 is still on the table.