We’ll start in the bottom half of the eighth, because that is when momentum started to feel like it was on Boston’s side for the first time in a few innings. Matt Barnes would start the frame with the score tied 1-1. After a quick first out, he allowed a walk and that brought Eric Thames to the plate as a pinch hitter with the go-ahead run at the plate. Realizing the gravity of this situation, John Farrell made a big decision to go to Craig Kimbrel with one out in the eighth. The Red Sox manager deserves plenty of criticism for some of his decisions with the bullpen, but this was a great call. Even if it seems obvious to some of us, a lot of managers wouldn’t do this. Kimbrel would blow Thames away, and after allowing an unlucky infield single he’d get another big strikeout to preserve the tie.
Just like in Minnesota, where Kimbrel also came in for the eighth in a tight spot, the Red Sox offense immediately came out and did some damage. After Christian Vazquez started things off with a walk, Deven Marrero reached on an error after attempting a sacrifice bunt. That left two on for Mookie Betts, who did what Mookie Betts does. Specifically, he destroyed a baseball and put the Red Sox up 4-1. Kimbrel would come back out in the ninth and shut the door with an immaculate inning, giving the Red Sox the win.
Prior to all of that, the biggest story was just how great Rodriguez looked. Last week, I wrote on this very website that Rodriguez was just about ready to make the leap. Since then, he’s continued to pitch extremely well, and perhaps no outing has been as brilliant as Thursday’s in Milwaukee. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, it’s worth noting that the Brewers’ two best hitters — Thames and Ryan Braun — were both on the bench to start this game. That doesn’t mean Rodriguez was any less thrilling to watch, though.
It was one of those rare times when the young lefty had all three of his offerings working, although he was still mainly working off of his fastball and changeup. He went through six innings of work and allowed just one run on three hits. He also struck out five Brewers and didn’t walk anyone.
The first inning was one of the few times Rodriguez got into any trouble. After getting a strikeout to kick things off, he gave up a double to Keon Broxton. It wasn’t a double that would get anyone worried, though, as Broxton broke his bat and hit a soft liner that just landed in an opportune spot for some heads-up baserunning to get him to second. He’d try to steal third in the next at bat but was gunned down by Vazquez.
After that, Rodriguez fell into a ridiculous groove. The Brewers failed to make any threatening contact off the lefty as he retired the next 13 batters he faced. That carried him into the sixth inning having faced the minimum. This is when he fell into a little bit of trouble for the second time of the day. The frame started with a single from Manny Pina, but again it was on soft contact. After inducing a pop out, the Brewers would opt to leave in Jimmy Nelson -- their starting pitcher — to drop a sacrifice bunt. It worked, and they had a runner in scoring position for Jonathan Villar. Last year’s breakout star came through with a solid double into the left field corner, giving Milwaukee their first good contact against Rodriguez and their first run as well. Rodriguez was lifted for a pinch hitter in the next inning, meaning this was all they’d get off Boston’s starter on the day.
Of course, on the other side of things, the early part of the game was defined by the Red Sox offense failing to come through with big hits. Nelson wasn’t as dominant as Rodriguez — not by a longshot — but the results were the same.
Boston’s offense actually got started early today and gave themselves their
first second lead of the entire series. Mookie Betts led off the game with a double off the wall in left-center field. After Dustin Pedroia bunted him over (it looked like he may have been bunting for a hit, but either way it was an ill-advised choice), Xander Bogaerts hit a ground ball that was misplayed by Jesus Aguilar at first. He was busy watching what Betts was doing at third base and came up on the ball too early. The ball slid under his glove, allowing Bogaerts to reach and Betts to score. Bogaerts would steal second to get himself into scoring position, but was stranded there.
In the next inning, after two walks and a single, the Red Sox had a chance to do some real damage with the bases loaded and two outs for Pedroia. He grounded out to end the rally. They got another base runner in the third, but that was evaporated by one of the stranger plays I can remember. With Bogaerts on first, Mitch Moreland hit a liner to Villar at second base. In real time, it appeared Villar dropped it but neither Bogaerts nor Moreland ran it out and the result was a double play. On replay, however, it was clear that Villar did make the catch but then purposely dropped it when he realized it could be a double play. It was a really heads-up play by Villar that the ump didn’t pick up on.
The Red Sox would get base runners in each of the next two innings, but one was stranded at first while the other was eliminated in a double play. After a 1-2-3 sixth — their first and only 1-2-3 frame of the game — we entered the seventh with Nelson still in the contest and starting to cruise. The Red Sox started off with a single, but followed it up with a pop out and two strikeouts to end the inning.
The eighth would be perhaps the most frustrating inning for Boston. It got off to a promising start with Pedroia hitting a ground rule double. With Bogaerts at the plate in the next at bat, a ball got past the catcher but Pedroia lost the ball and couldn’t take the opportunity to advance to third base. It wasn’t really his fault — the pitcher screened him — but it was a bad break. Bogaerts would single through the left side, but Pedroia only made it to third. After a Moreland walk, the Red Sox had the bases loaded with just one out and reliever Corey Knebel having control issues. Jackie Bradley worked a 3-1 count before eventually striking out and Rutledge would strikeout to end the inning with the score still tied. We know how the game ended, but at the time this was a demoralizing way for the frame to end.
There’s certainly no such thing as a must-win game in May, and it would be foolish to think that was a must-win for the Red Sox. But....it felt really good to win this game. Overall, it was a disappointing six-game road trip that should have ended with better than a .500 record, but the win today prevented it from being truly disastrous. They’re still looking to go on a really big run as a team, but on Thursday they avoided going on a big slide. You can thank Rodriguez, Kimbrel, Betts and Farrell for that.