Thursday afternoon’s series finale was a tale of two games. In the first half, things were flying by and neither offense could get anything going. Drew Pomeranz and Daniel Gossett were shutting down their opponents and action was hard to come by. In the second half, the A’s still struggled to put runs on the board but the Red Sox offense woke up and started hitting a bad Oakland pitching staff. There are still plenty of underlying problems with this team that were exposed in the first half of this game, but they also showed why they’ve controlled first place in the division for the better part of the second half. They have outstanding starting pitching — Pomeranz was excellent in this game — and the offense has a tendency to score late in games when it matters most. It’s a strange team and they are hard to figure out, but they took another series and that’s what matters most.
Through the first five innings of this game, it was an unexpected pitchers duel with Oakland’s Gossett looking like the better pitcher. It was surely frustrating to watch the Red Sox muster little-to-nothing against the A’s righty, but he deserved plenty of credit. His stuff certainly didn’t appear overpowering by any means, but he did a great job of locating his pitches on the edges of the zone all day long. The Red Sox also had some of their familiar issues at the plate, including but not limited to inexplicably weak contact and over-reliance on patience.
On the other side of the coin, though, Pomeranz was able to keep Oakland off the scoreboard for the majority of his outing. He got himself into a little more trouble than Gossett did, though some of that was because Oakland’s batted balls did a better job of finding holes. Either way, he struggled to put hitters away at times and did give Oakland a few scoring chances. That’s not to say he pitched poorly by any stretch, though. He was actually quite good. Pomeranz was helped out by a couple of poor baserunning decisions by A’s players, but more often than not he made the big pitch when he needed it. That was particularly clear in the sixth inning, when he was already up around 100 pitches. He started that one by allowing a single, but immediately turned around and got a double play. Then, he allowed a walk and another single before bearing down and getting a huge strikeout to end his day.
In between all of the good pitching, both teams were able to get only one run each through the first five innings, and they both came in that fifth inning. For Oakland, they took advantage of a leadoff walk from Matt Chapman, who was moved over to third on a one-out double. With two in scoring position, Josh Phegley hit a sacrifice fly to break the scoreless tie. The inning seemed as if it could have been worse, but Andrew Benintendi’s throw home was cut off and Mark Canha was inexplicably caught between second and third in a rundown to end the inning. I have no Earthly idea what he was thinking in that moment, but it ended the inning.
In the bottom half of the inning, the Red Sox didn’t waste much time getting that run back. In fact, they did so on the second pitch of the frame. It came with Christian Vazquez at the plate, and he took a curveball down and in and launched it into the Monster Seats to tie the game at one. It was Vazquez’ seventh career home run, and as we’ve chronicled on this site he only hits clutch ones. You can add this one to the list.
After Pomeranz escaped the top of the sixth as explained above, Gossett came out looking for a shutdown inning of his own in the bottom half. He wouldn’t get it. After getting a quick first out, he gave up a line drive double to Dustin Pedroia that was followed by a double off the wall from Benintendi, and just like that Gossett’s day was over and the Red Sox had a 2-1 lead. Ryan Dull came in for Oakland, and after getting the second out of the inning he allowed Boston’s third double of the inning, this time to Mitch Moreland, and it gave the Red Sox a 3-1 lead.
That would be the score heading into the top half of the seventh where Brandon Workman came in for Pomeranz. The righty walked the first batter he saw, and that would be the only batter he’d face. Robby Scott then came in to face Franklin Barreto — the second pinch hitter of the at bat — and after falling behind 3-1 he came back and got the strikeout. Farrell would once again come out for a pitching change, this time calling upon Addison Reed. The righty got himself into a bit of trouble with a double and a walk to load the bases, but came through with a couple of big strikeouts to escape the inning with the same 3-1 lead.
In the bottom half, after the scary top half, the Red Sox offense decided to break the game open a bit more. Rafael Devers doubled to lead the inning off, and then an error by Oakland on a Brock Holt bunt attempt — their third awful mistake of the game by my count — put two in scoring position. Bogaerts was then hit by a pitch with one out to load the bases, and Pedroia came through with a sacrifice fly to push the lead to three. Then, with two more in scoring position, Benintendi came through with an RBI single and all of a sudden the Red Sox had a comfortable 6-1 lead.
That lead would stick for the rest of the game, though Joe Kelly did allow a home run in the eighth to cut it to four. Craig Kimbrel came on in the ninth and allowed a couple runners to reach base before recording three straight outs to end the inning and the game.
So, with the win the Red Sox took their second straight series and are guaranteed a lead of at least three games in the division when they wake up tomorrow. To know exactly what that lead will be they’ll have to wait until tonight, as the Yankees take on the Orioles in New York Thursday night at 7:00. Until then, the Red Sox will enjoy a 3.5 game lead for a few hours. They’ll look to keep the series wins coming this weekend in Tampa, a quest that starts on Friday with Chris Sale taking the mound.