Saturday was the best pitching matchup of this weekend series against the Tigers with both teams sending their respective ace to the mound. In fact, it was a matchup we’ve already seen in 2017, as Chris Sale and Justin Verlander battled each other very early in the season to the results we expected. This time around didn’t feature complete domination, but both did decently well at keeping runs off the board and this game was close until the late innings.
Early on, there wasn’t too much action on either side. The Tigers did get a couple of baserunners off Sale in the first, but they both came on singles and they weren’t able to score thanks to magnificent defense by Jackie Bradley on two separate plays.
There wasn’t any more action until the top of the third, when once again Sale got into trouble. That frame started with a Jose Iglesias — Old Friend Alert — double and an Ian Kinsler single to put runners on the corners with nobody out. Fortunately, Sale is amazing and the southpaw was able to strike out the next three batters — and the two, three and four hitters, to boot — to get out of the jam unscathed.
The Red Sox offense finally rewarded their ace in the bottom half of that inning, and made Verlander throw a whopping 36 pitches in the process. The first three batters got on with a couple singles and a walk to load the bases before recording an out. Dustin Pedroia made sure not to waste the opportunity completely by knocking a sacrifice fly to right field to give Boston the game’s first run. After Xander Bogaerts struck out to give the team their second out of the inning, Mitch Moreland came through with a big single to extend the lead to two.
That was all they’d score in the inning, and it was all that would be scored until the top half of the fifth. To this point in the game, Sale was cruising with just a few weak hits and six strikeouts through four innings. Here, he started to struggle, although the start of the rally was bad luck. After a quick first out, he gave up an infield single to Iglesias and a blooper to Kinsler to put two men on with one out. Then, he threw a slider to Nick Castellanos — a pitch that he had used to strike out the Tigers twice in the game to that point — who stayed back on it and drove it to the left field corner for an RBI double. In the next at bat, Miguel Cabrera hit a weak ground ball to score Kinsler and just like that the game was tied.
It wouldn’t stay tied for long, with the Red Sox loading the bases in the fifth via a walk, fielder’s choice, double and intentional walk. That put Andrew Benintendi in a spot to break the game open, which he couldn’t do. He did give them the lead with a sacrifice fly to make it a 3-2 lead.
Once again, however, the Tigers were able to knot things up with Sale continuing to allow a little too much contact. This time around, it started on a solid double from Justin Upton, who would come around to score on a bloop single to center field. Mikie Mahtook, who knocked in the run, did get to second base on the throw home, but he was stranded there.
The Red Sox came right back in the bottom half of the seventh and they stopped playing around. With A+ name Warwick Saupold on the hill, the Red Sox lineup got to work with a couple of singles from Pedroia and Bogaerts to start things off. Then, Moreland came through as he’s been wont to do of late, smacking a double to left field to score both runners and put Boston up 5-3. He’d eventually come around to score on a Josh Rutledge single to hand the bullpen a 6-3 lead.
The bullpen, with Matt Barnes in the eighth and Blaine Boyer in the ninth, took care of business and the Red Sox won their second in a row with a little help from the offense that exploded for five runs in the eighth. They also clinched a series victory over Detroit and gave themselves a chance to earn a sweep in primetime Sunday night.
This was a good overall win, with Sale doing his job and the offense doing theirs. Sale could have been a little better, as he did give up a little bit of hard contact and lost his strikeout stuff in the later innings. However, he was electric to start and much of the trouble he got into was the result of weak contact. He also came back out for a seventh inning with 100 pitches on his arm and put together a dominant frame.
The offense got production from everywhere, but it was Moreland who stood out the most once again. He’s improbably — at least, based on preseason expectations — hitting in the cleanup spot and he’s making John Farrell look smart for it. Whenever the team needs a big hit, Moreland’s been there to take care of business. There are plenty of moves made by Dave Dombrowski to criticize, but tonight was a reminder that Moreland is looking like a genius signing.
Drew Pomeranz will be on the mound for tomorrow night’s ESPN game.