Drew Pomeranz was in need of a strong start on Friday to get back on track in what has been a very strange season. A few weeks ago it had looked like the lefty was starting to turn a corner, but then he took a couple steps back in each of his last two outings. He lost the efficiency that he needs to be at his best, and he couldn’t even get his strikeouts in his last outing. Even when he’s been bad since coming to Boston, he’s gotten his strikeouts. A matchup against the Astros certainly wasn’t an ideal scenario to get back on track, but if Pomeranz could do well here it would surely do wonders for his confidence.
Well, I think he should be feeling pretty confident right now. Pomeranz shut down one of the best lineups in baseball on Friday night, rarely getting into any trouble. More importantly, he was incredibly efficient for most of this game and showed the kind of command with which he’s been inconsistent in 2017. On Friday, he was locating his fastball like he rarely has before and that led to results that justify the kind of trade Dave Dombrowski made for the lefty last summer. In between, he spun some impressive curveballs to keep the Astros off-balance.
Through the first three innings, Pomeranz faced the minimum and struck out two of the first nine batters he faced. That doesn’t sound overly impressive, but Houston entered this series tied with the Red Sox for the lowest strikeout rate in all of baseball. The only hit he allowed was a swinging bunt, too, and the only reason the runner was safe is because that runner was Jose Altuve.
Houston managed to get a couple of baserunners in the fourth, but the first one was eliminated by a nifty double play started by Pomeranz and the other was stranded at first base. After a 1-2-3 fifth, the Astros finally got a real rally going in the sixth. The southpaw did start things with two quick outs against the bottom of the lineup before issuing a two-out walk to George Springer followed by another walk to Jose Altuve. He was starting to lose his command, and the Astros were sending Carlos Correa -- one of the scariest hitters in the league — to the plate. The Houston shortstop came through with a base hit, but it was well-hit to right field. Despite that, Springer was still sent home to score and Mookie Betts threw him out by a good 40 feet. It was — and I am not exaggerating when I say this — quite possibly the worst send I have ever witnessed.
For as well as Pomeranz pitched, the game was tense all the way through because the Red Sox offense had just about as much trouble against Mike Fiers. The Astros starter had a horrendous start to the season but had started to turn it around of late. The Red Sox were hoping to change that trend, but it didn’t quite work out that way.
The Red Sox did get a runner in scoring position in the first two innings, but neither of them came around to score. The second one should have, but an RBI single was robbed from Josh Rutledge on a terrific diving play by Altuve.
They finally broke through in the third on a rally started by a Mookie Betts walk. The right fielder made it to third on a single from Dustin Pedroia and was eventually driven in by a Mitch Moreland single. It gave the Red Sox a 1-0 lead, and while that was all they would score in the inning even after later loading the bases, it was a lead that would hold up for a while.
Unfortunately, it wouldn’t hold up forever. Despite starting to lose it just a little bit in that sixth inning that included two straight walks followed by a single, Pomeranz was sent back out for the seventh. It was certainly a defensible call by John Farrell given Pomeranz’ relatively low pitch count, but it was risky given his seemingly declining command. The lefty started things off with a strikeout of Evan Gattis, but then let a fastball catch a little too much of the plate and Brian McCann made him pay. The catcher launched it into the right field seats and just like that the game was tied at one.
Joe Kelly was then brought in to try to preserve the 1-1 tie, and immediately started his outing by allowing a one-out double to Yuli Gurriel, who would make to third on a groundout. After a two-out walk, pinch hitter Nori Aoki had a chance with two runners on. It was an intense at bat — far more intense than any seventh inning at bat in June should be — that lasted nine pitches. Mercifully, it ended with a line out to third base to keep the game tied.
From there, the Astros turned to their bullpen, and specifically turned to one of the most underrated relievers in the game, Will Harris. Unfortunately for Houston, Harris immediately made a mistake, leaving a cutter over the plate on his first pitch to Betts. Boston’s superstar sent it into the Crawfish Boxes and gave the Red Sox a 2-1 lead.
With the top of the lineup coming up for the eighth, Farrell elected to hand the ball off to Matt Barnes for the bottom half of the eighth. Ideally, he’d be willing to use Craig Kimbrel in that situation, but unfortunately that is probably asking for too much in today’s game. With Barnes, it was another tense inning. After striking out his good friend and college teammate, Springer, he allowed a bloop double to Altuve. He then unintentionally intentionally walked Correa to put runners at first at second for Evan Gattis. Altuve would make it to third after stealing the base, but Barnes escaped danger by inducing a routine double play to end the inning.
The score remained 2-0 heading into the ninth, which meant it was time for Craig Kimbrel to come in and do Craig Kimbrel things. That was exactly what he did, and the Red Sox walked out of the stadium with a series-opening victory. It would have been nice to see a little more from the offense, but the pitching was phenomenal. It was beyond encouraging to see this kind of performance from Pomeranz against such a potent lineup, and the bullpen continues to be effective, even if it got a little dicey at times tonight.
They’ll try to clinch a series victory tomorrow with Rick Porcello on the mound and Don Orsillo in the booth.