As I said in the intro to today’s Gamethread, this afternoon’s game in Oakland was as close to a must-win as one can possibly be this early in the season. They’d only lost three consecutive games, but they’ve been sputtering for weeks now and they really needed to pull themselves out of the slump. They’ll still have work to do, of course, and one win cannot clean the bad taste completely out of our mouths, but this was certainly a step in the right direction.
The most encouraging part of this game was certainly the offense. It wasn’t even that they put up a bunch of runs — although, we won’t complain about that — but it was how they did it. We know they’ve been struggling in the power department this year, so the other option to take advantage of everything you can. When the other team makes a mistake, you can’t let that go unpunished. In fact, when you’re playing a team who is prone to mistakes — and the A’s have arguably the worst defense in all of baseball — you have to force them into mistakes. The easiest way to do that is to be aggressive on the base paths.
The Red Sox took to that strategy on Sunday, and they didn’t waste much time. After Mookie Betts led the game off with a walk, Dustin Pedroia hit a blooper into no-man’s land in right field. The throw back into the infield was way off the mark, and Betts turned on the jets and scored from first on the play. Most runners would at least slow down heading into third, but as soon as the throw sailed into left field Betts knew he could score and just put his head down and ran. He really is a treat to watch on the bases. Not only is he fast, but he’s incredibly smart. After that, Pedroia moved to third on a wild pitch and they were able to get him home on a sacrifice fly from Andrew Benintendi.
In the fifth inning, the aggressiveness came back and the runs were right there with it. This time, it started with Christian Vazquez as the catcher led things off with a single and subsequently stole second. The throw from Josh Phegley behind the plate sailed into the outfield and Vazquez moved over to third. Once again, the Red Sox took advantage of the mistake with Betts singling Vazquez home. Boston would keep the pressure on by sending Betts to steal during the next at bat and Pedroia found the hole created by the shortstop running to cover second. The ball went into left field and once again Betts was determined to score and did so easily. There really are no words to describe this dude.
Their seventh and final run was also the result of aggressive baserunning. This time, Jackie Bradley hit what should have been a routine single to center field. However, when Bradley noticed that Rajai Davis was slow getting to it and did a little spin getting the ball, he turned it on and hustled into second for an improbable double. He’d move to third on a fly out and score on a ground out.
The Red Sox would eventually tack on a bunch more the old fashioned way, starting when Mitch Moreland demolished a home run to right field. It was Moreland’s third of the series and he seems to just completely own the Athletics. Then, in the ninth they batted around and exploded for five runs.
There were some frustrating moments — including Moreland and Jackie Bradley striking out in back-to-back at bats with two on and one out in the third — but those don’t seem to be as big of a deal when they are paired with more opportune hitting in other innings.
Don’t let this encouraging performance by the offense overshadow what Eduardo Rodriguez did, though. In what continues to be a breakout season (or, perhaps more accurately, a continuation of a breakout second half in 2016), the young lefty put together another solid outing this time out. More importantly, he was able to pitch efficiently (yeah, I’m side-eyeing Drew Pomeranz right now) and giving the bullpen some much-needed rest.
Rodriguez only ran into trouble in two innings, and even those spells weren’t all that bad. In the second, he started things off with two quick outs but then allowed a hard-hit double that was followed by an RBI single to bring the A’s within one. Then in the fourth, with the score still 2-1 at that point, he left a changeup in the strike zone over the middle of the plate to Chad Pinder, who hit it over the wall in left field to tie the game. If you recall, Pinder hit a 460-foot bomb on Saturday.
Other than those two blips, it was smooth sailing for Rodriguez. He continued to work at the quick pace that he’s been equipped with all season and worked quickly through the Athletics lineup. He ended up going eight innings in this one, striking out eight batters and walking just one. Rodriguez also seemed to get stronger as the day went on, retiring 14 of the last 15 batters he faced following the home run to Pinder.
Matt Barnes would come on to pitch a clean ninth and finish things off.
This was a good overall win at a time when the Red Sox needed it. They are back over .500, and while this certainly won’t silence their critics, it’s a step in the right direction. More games like this one, please.