For a while, Sunday’s game looked like it was going to be more of the same. A fine but not great outing from the starter combined with a lackluster day from the depleted lineup. Then, said lineup came alive and it all changed.
At first, though, it was a seesaw sort of day between the Tigers and the Red Sox. Boston got a couple baserunners in the first, but Dustin Pedroia was picked off and they couldn’t get anything going. Rick Porcello came out for the bottom half of the inning, and after striking out Ian Kinsler to start the game he allowed two straight singles. After another strikeout, Justin Upton came through with a base hit of his own to give the Tigers an early 1-0 lead.
The Red Sox came right back in the next inning, though. With Mitch Moreland on first after a leadoff walk, Sandy Leon aka Babe Ruth II smashed a ball to left-center field that would have scored Moreland had it not bounced into the seats. After Moreland was thrown out at the plate of a grounder from Pablo Sandoval, it looked like it might be another blown opportunity for the Red Sox. Instead, Marco Hernandez came through with a base hit and the game was tied.
It wouldn’t stay tied for very long, though — and get used to reading that. Alex Avila led the inning off with a walk, and then Andrew Romine hit a double play ball to first base. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as a double play. They got the out at second, but there was confusion between Moreland and Porcello as to who would be covering the bag on the throw back, and Hernandez’ toss got away and allowed Romine to get to second. Hernandez got the error, though it wasn’t really his fault. Romine would later come around to score on a single from Kinsler to give the lead right back to Detroit.
The following frame, Boston came right back again, continuing the back-and-forth theme. This time, it was a two-out walk from Chris Young that started the rally and a double to the left-center field gap from Moreland that finished it. Young would score on the play, and yet again the game was tied.
This time, it actually did stay that way for a relatively long period of time. At least, relative to the first few innings of the game. The Tigers made a little noise in the bottom of the third, but Porcello escaped. After the Red Sox went down 1-2-3 in the top half of the fourth, Detroit came right back to regain the lead in the bottom half. Once again, it was a single from Kinsler to score Romine, who reached on a double to start the frame. It was all they’d score that inning, but it gave them another lead.
This is how it would stay until the seventh. In between, Porcello started to figure things out. He hadn’t been horrible for the first few innings, as he succumbed to a bunch of singles. With that being said, it was far from his best outing as he was leaving a few too many fastballs up in the zone. To counter that, he started relying heavily on his secondary pitches, and it worked. Between the end of the fourth and the entire fifth and sixth innings, Porcello retired eight of nine with five strikeouts.
Then, the top of the seventh came and things got weird in a very good way for the Red Sox. With one out, Hernandez got another hit, this time on a soft ground ball to shortstop. After that, Dustin Pedroia grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. Or, at least it seemed that way. NESN came back from commercial to show that the Red Sox had challenged the play at second, arguing that Kinsler had taken his foot off the bag on the turn. Replay showed that to be true, and Hernandez was put back on second with two down. It was an incredibly smart challenge, and a result that had to be taken advantage of. Fortunately, Andrew Benintendi made sure that was the case as he ripped a single to left field to score the game-tying run. He was thrown out at second trying to stretch it into a double, but the damage was done.
The high didn’t last long, though. Nick Castellanos led off the next inning by smashing a home run to left-center field off Porcello. After allowing an infield single to Miguel Cabrera, the day would be over for the Red Sox starter. Matt Barnes — back from bereavement — came through in a big way. He got three straight outs to keep the deficit to one.
Finally, in the top half of the eighth, the Red Sox bats came alive. Bruce Rondon was on the hill for Detroit, and he just didn’t have anything going on Sunday. He allowed a walk to Mookie Betts — back from the flu — and then a single to Chris Young. On the single, Justin Upton inexplicably sailed his throw back in way over the third baseman, allowing both Betts and Young to advance a base thanks to some heads-up baserunning by Betts. This led Brad Ausmus to intentionally walk Moreland to set up a force at home. Brock Holt came in to hit for Steve Selsky, and was able to draw a game-tying walk despite Ausmus calling on left-hander Kyle Ryan. Mr. MVP Leon hit a two-run single after that to give the Red Sox the lead, and a double play from Pablo Sandoval gave the Red Sox their fourth run of the inning and a 7-4 lead.
From there, it was up to the bullpen and they came through with some scary moments mixed in. Barnes came back out for the eighth, and he was mostly awesome. He did allow one double to Avila, but also induced a ground out and got two strikeouts. His curveball was working masterfully today, and this outing showed why he’s Farrell’s preferred eighth inning option.
Then, Kimbrel came out for the ninth and totally Kimbrel’d out there. He started off with two walks and eight balls in his first nine pitches. He settled down a bit for Miguel Cabrera, though, and totally overmatched the former MVP with his 99 mph fastball. Victor Martinez came up with two on, and gave everyone a heart attack with a foul ball that missed being a game-tying home run by mere feet. Instead, he hit an RBI single and left runners on the corners with one out. From there, Kimbrel took care of business with a couple of overpowering strikeouts of Upton and Tyler Collins.
The Red Sox really needed to see their offense do something today, with or without some of their best hitters. That didn’t appear to be the case for most of the afternoon, but the eighth inning rolled around and they finally broke through. Moreland and Leon are swinging hot bats, and they helped carry the offense today. Porcello wasn’t great, but he was good enough and kept the offense in the game long enough. Barnes looked great, and Kimbrel shut the door in the scariest possible way. Combined with a great decision to challenge by Farrell, it was an all-around win today even if it wasn’t always pretty.