What a weird, sloppy game. We’re gonna go in straight chronological order with this one, because it’s the only way to do the back-and-forth justice.
The Red Sox were up against Chris Tillman and the Orioles on Sunday, and it looked like a good chance for the offense to have a big day. Tillman has spent much of this season on the disabled list and hasn’t been very impressive since getting healthy. Things got off to a good start, with Mookie Betts starting things off with a swinging bunt single — his 500th career hit — and Andrew Benintendi followed it up with a walk to give the Sox two baserunner with nobody out. After Xander Bogaerts popped out, Mitch Moreland drew a walk to load the bases. Hanley Ramirez got the ball in the air with a runner on third and nobody out, but it was too shallow to score a run and it seemed Boston might squander their chance. Instead, the red-hot Jackie Bradley ripped a single into right field to score two. The inning could have possibly been bigger, but Moreland made a bad baserunning mistake trying to take third base and was thrown out in the process to end the inning with just a two-run lead.
Either way, the Red Sox gave Chris Sale a first-inning lead and everything seemed to be pointing up. Unfortunately, the bottom half of the first inning was horrible. Boston’s ace didn’t look like himself early, giving up a leadoff double and a walk with one strikeout in between. With two on, the Orioles called for a double steal and it seemed as if Sandy Leon made a strong throw to third base to get Joey Rickard for the second out. The throw was clearly in time, but a combination of a bad tag from Pablo Sandoval and a great slide from Rickard allowed him to get in and put two runners in scoring position. Sale recovered with a strikeout, but then Chris Davis singled on a soft liner to tie the game at two.
From there, it only got worse when Trey Mancini hit what looked like an inning-ending grounder to Sandoval at third. With the runner going, it seemed as if Deven Marrero thought Sandoval would go to first with the ball and didn’t immediately break to cover second. Sandoval took the short route instead and the ball ended up in right field to keep the inning going. Sandoval maybe should have gone to first, but Marrero needs to break for the bag on contact just in case. Once again, the O’s took advantage with a Jonathan Schoop double to give them a 3-2 lead. That would be all they got in the inning, but Sale threw 39 pitches in the eventful inning, largely thanks to his defense.
From there, both pitchers settled down for the most part. Sandoval did give Boston a leadoff double in the second, but they weren’t able to move him from there. After Sale got a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom half, the Red Sox came back looking for a tie. They got it right away in the third, when Benintendi launched a fastball into the seats in right field. We all knew he would get out of his slump eventually, but it was a relief to see it finally happen.
That was all the action until the bottom half of the fourth when Schoop hit another double and made it to third on a wild pitch. Sale was able to bear down in the jam, though, and induced a huge strikeout against J.J. Hardy to end the inning unscathed.
Now, we fast-forward to the top half of the sixth with the score still tied and Tillman appearing to near the end of his rope. He allowed two of the first three batters he faced to reach before walking Sandoval to load the bases. Leon struck out with one out in a horrible at bat to give Baltimore two outs and Marrero coming to the plate. It appeared to be a golden scenario for the Orioles, but they came through with their own defensive mistake. Tillman threw a pitch in the dirt that didn’t get too far away and Moreland made another baserunning blunder by coming too far off third base. Baltimore blew it, though, when catcher Francisco Pena’s throw to third ended up in left field, allowing both Moreland and Bradley to score and give the Red Sox a 5-3 lead. It was a totally unforced error and a huge break for Boston.
Sale, over 100 pitches, came back out for the sixth and retired the side in three batters thanks to a double play. That would end his outing and he lasted a lot longer than it appeared he would early on. Benintendi tacked on another in the seventh with his second homer of the day, officially getting himself out of his slump (we hope).
After that it was up to the bullpen and they did the job. Blaine Boyer was surprisingly tasked with recording five outs, and he did so while giving up a double to Manny Machado. Robby Scott came in to get the last out of the eighth before they turned to Matt Barnes to shut the door in the ninth.
Overall, it was a big win for the Red Sox in which they caught some breaks after giving away some early runs. Sale didn’t look sharp and hasn’t quite looked the same since his hot start, but he did what aces do and got through a quality start despite not having his best stuff. He also still got nine strikeouts in six innings without his best stuff/command, which is insane.
On offense, Benintendi was the MVP and it was huge to see him getting back on track. If the lineup is going to perform as we all hope, they’ll need their left fielder to hit up to his capabilities on a more consistent basis. It wasn’t always pretty, but Boston picked up a series split in Baltimore when they needed it. Now, they head to New York to start a three-game series against the Yankees on Tuesday. If they manage a sweep, first place in the division will be theirs.