Friday night started with Fenway filling up with legends from all eras of Red Sox baseball. There was Yaz. There was Rice. There was the family of Pesky. There was the family of Cronin. There was Pedro. There was Wakefield. There was Varitek. And, of course, there was David Ortiz, the man who was honored. It was a reminder of how much greatness this franchise has been blessed with over its storied history. If we were lucky, it would serve as a little bit of inspiration for the active players as they looked to start off their three-game series with the Angels on a high note in front of so many legends. The active players did their job with a strong all-around performance.
While most of the roster did their part on Friday, the most impressive performance came from the Red Sox starter. Rick Porcello desperately needed a strong start after what has been a horribly disappointing year for the 2016 Cy Young winner, and it seemed like a return to Fenway against a Mike Trout-less Angels lineup was a good place for that to happen. Of course, it wasn’t the first time he’s had a prime matchup, so the optimism around this start was strictly cautious.
Porcello quickly made it clear that he was ready to turn things around, though. It definitely seemed like a different pitcher this time out and it was maybe as close as we’ve seen the 2017 Porcello look to the 2016 Porcello. The first thing I noticed in this game was that it appeared he was working at a much quicker pace early on. I would imagine, if it wasn’t all in my head, that this was the result of some conversation he had with Chris Sale since his last start. Whatever the change was, it worked. For the first time all year, Porcello seemed truly confident with his two-seam fastball and was locating it exactly where he wanted all night long.
As I said, it was clear from the start that this was a different Porcello. He made quick work of the Angels in the first, facing only three batters with a little help from Andrew Benintendi’s arm. He’d get into a little bit of trouble in the second allowing two baserunners, but got out of it unscathed before another easy 1-2-3 inning in the third.
The first bit of trouble he got into on Friday night came in the fourth, which started off with a double into the triangle from Albert Pujols. It was somewhat fortunate for the Red Sox, as basically any player besides Pujols would turn that into a triple. It didn’t end up mattering, though, after Andrelton Simmons singled out to left field. Benintendi, apparently not knowing about Pujols’ utter lack of speed, threw home despite the runner not going. It was an ill-advised throw, but one Sandy Leon should have easily stopped. Instead, he just stabbed at it and let it get by, allowing Pujols to score. It was an unearned run, but a run nonetheless.
He’d get into a little more in the seventh, as he was approaching 100 pitches and seemingly hitting a wall. After a quick first out he allowed a cheap double on a slow grounder that got by all three players of the left side of the field. Then the unravelling began as he allowed two more consecutive extra-base hits, both of which were crushed to straightaway center field.
Before that, though, it was almost all good for Porcello. In the end he lasted 6 1⁄3 innings, allowed three runs (two earned) with a whopping eight strikeouts to just one walk.. This wasn’t the biggest test for the righty and he struggled towards the end, but if the overall performance is a sign of things to come that’s a huge development for this Red Sox team.
On offense, Boston’s lineup did it’s best to impress 2016’s best hitter. They got started awfully early, too, against an extremely shaky Alex Meyer. It was obvious right from the start that the Angels starter had no idea where the ball was going, and the Red Sox took advantage. They led the inning off with two walks before Xander Bogaerts knocked in a run with a double. With two runners in scoring position, Meyer threw a wild pitch to score one and in the next at bat threw another to allow a third run to score.
After that, the offense slowed down a bit as Meyer found his control. However, the Red Sox were still hitting the ball fairly well and it seemed like more runs were coming. In the fourth, with the score now 3-1, they’d tack two more on a home run for Hanley Ramirez. It wasn’t most exciting home run we’ve ever seen, as it just snuck around Pesky’s Pole in right field, but it was still a good piece of hitting on a hanging curveball on the outer part of the plate. The Red Sox DH has been in a big, long slump, and hopefully this helps snap him out of it.
With the score now 5-1, they’d tack on a couple more in the sixth on another long ball from another struggling hitter. This time it came from Sandy Leon, who demolished a first-pitch fastball over the middle of the plate into the bullpens in right field. Leon has proven to be a streaky hitter, so perhaps this is the start of another streak. Or, perhaps more likely, I am a wishful thinker. For what it’s worth, Leon came through again in the eight with a two-run double to give the Red Sox a 9-4 lead and extend the lead beyond a save situation.
In the bullpen, Heath Hembree came in for Porcello in the middle of that seventh inning and allowed one inherited runner to score before getting out of the inning with a three-run lead. The eighth inning belonged to Joe Kelly, who shut things down in three batters. Blaine Boyer handled the ninth cleanly as he continued his shockingly solid run with the Red Sox.
The score ended up being a little bit closer than we or the Red Sox would have liked and Porcello’s final line doesn’t quite do his outing justice, but overall this was a good win. Hopefully, it was the start of something good for struggling players like Porcello, Ramirez and Leon. They’ll look to prove that’s the case on Saturday with another struggling player, David Price, taking the mound.