The Red Sox offense had been in a serious funk coming into the game, and it continued early on in this game. There’s no denying the frustration that comes in stretches like this, particularly because there’s not much to do beyond waiting for guys like Hanley Ramirez to come around and start hitting. Eventually, on Friday at least, they came through.
Going up against Jordan Zimmermann, this is a game in which the offense should have been able to breakout. The former Nationals star has struggled in the last two years since joining the Tigers and has been particularly unimpressive in 2017. Instead, the Red Sox put together few chances and only took advantage of one rally against the Tigers starter. Even in that rally, they could have possibly had more.
They should have been able to get a little bit going in the first, as Mookie Betts drew a walk to leadoff the game and was moved to second on an infield single from Xander Bogaerts. They’d get runners on the corners on a Mitch Moreland fielder’s choice to give Andrew Benintendi a chance with two outs, but the rookie struck out in an ugly at bat to end the inning without any damage.
Over the next two innings they managed only one baserunner, and that came on an error by the Tigers. Finally, in the fourth, they started to get something going. At this point they were trailing 3-0, but Moreland quickly inched Boston closer with a solo home run that just barely cleared the wall in the right field. They’d keep things going with a single and a walk before Jackie Bradley knocked in a second run on an RBI single to give Boston four straight baserunners to start the inning. Unfortunately, Hanley Ramirez ran into a bad out at third base in an ill-advised baserunning decision. Aggressive baserunning makes sense sometimes, but not when you have a struggling pitcher on the ropes with no outs. It would come back to bite them as Pablo Sandoval followed a Sandy Leon walk with an inning-ending double play.
They couldn’t build off the inning in the fifth as the top of the order went down 1-2-3, and in the sixth they squandered a leadoff double from Moreland by grounding out twice and striking out. Another double came in the seventh — this time from Betts and this time with two outs — but once again it was much ado about nothing.
Meanwhile, Brian Johnson got the start for Boston. He wasn’t nearly as effective as he was in his complete game shutout, but he was....adequate. The command wasn’t totally there, and his lack of stuff really stood out as he struggled to put away Tigers hitters time and time again, but he kept the hard contact down as much as one could reasonably expect against this scary, primarily right-handed lineup.
The lefty did put the Red Sox in an early hole, though, as he allowed a solo home run to Nick Castellanos, the second batter of the game. This came on a fastball up and over the plate, which can’t happen for a pitcher who tops out around 88 mph. The Tigers would follow that up with a strikeout and three consecutive singles — two of which could have feasibly been stopped with better defense on the left side of the infield — to give Detroit an early 2-0 lead.
Johnson settled down after that to retire six in a row before allowing a walk to Victor Martinez in the third, though he wouldn’t come around to score. Johnson gave up his third and final run when he left another fastball up in the zone, this time to Mikie Mahtook who drove it over the Monster in left-center field.
Although Johnson only allowed three runs, he was not efficient in the process. Part of that is due to the Tigers lineup doing a great job fighting off tough pitches, but it’s more because Johnson didn’t have any sort of putaway pitch in this one. It’s tough to succeed in this league like that, but even with the extreme lack of efficiency he kept the team in the game.
Heath Hembree would come on for Johnson with one runner on first and one out in the fifth. The righty gave up a smashed double to J.D. Martinez, but the runner didn’t score and Hembree escaped the inning unscathed. The righty allowed another runner in the sixth but once again didn’t allow a run to cross.
The seventh belonged to Joe Kelly, who shut down the middle of the Tigers lineup, allowing just one walk but pumping his fastball en route to two strikeouts and a groundout. Matt Barnes took care of the eighth.
All of this led to the fun part of the game, when the Red Sox entered the eight trailing 3-2. Bogaerts led things off with a bloop single to right field on a ball that appeared like it could have been caught, then moved to second on a bad pickoff throw. Moreland would come through once again after that, ripping a base hit into right field to score Bogaerts and tie the game. After the Sox recorded two quick outs it looked like they might settle for a tie for the time being, but Jackie Bradley had other ideas. The outfielder took a fastball up and in and destroyed it into the right field seats to give the Red Sox an emphatic two-run lead.
So, Craig Kimbrel had his save chance and he came in and converted it, as he does.
This wasn’t always a great game for the Red Sox, and some parts of the offense still stand out as frustrating issues. Ramirez isn’t hitting, and Sandoval isn’t doing much of anything. Pedroia gets some slack with it being his first game back, but he struggled today too. We don’t need to focus on that, though. The offense came through late — led by Bradley and Moreland — and the bullpen stepped up with a big performance in a long day for the unit.