As the Red Sox inch closer to the postseason, they picked up another big win on Saturday. They did so behind a phenomenal pitching performance from Eduardo Rodriguez, who has been lights out this month. Boston is getting to the point where they have to start setting up their rotation for the ALDS, and while there is a little more time for things to change it seems pretty clear at this point that Rodriguez should be starting Game Three. At the very least, he’s pitching like he wants to get there and that was on full display in Cincinnati. The offense, meanwhile, had themselves a solid day that was highlighted by a big home run from Mitch Moreland. Also standing out was Xander Bogaerts, who scored the first run of the game and reached in three of his five plate appearances.
We’ve seen enough of Rodriguez at this point in the year to know what kind of outing it’s going to be for the lefty right off the bat. There are two things you want to look for in his first innings. First is his control. If he’s able to pound the strike zone, and specifically the edges of the strike zone, then we know there’s a good chance he’ll be in for a good and efficient day. The other is his pitch mix. Rodriguez will always be a fastball-heavy pitcher, but if he’s at least showing some confidence in at least one and preferably two of his secondaries from the get-go that’s when he has success.
On Saturday afternoon, it was looking like a good day for the young southpaw from the first pitch and it never really stopped. Now, he leaned very heavily on his fastball early on, but it was a short inning. The one long at bat he had in the 1-2-3 first was against Zack Cozart and it featured a few sliders.
As it turned out, there really wasn’t much of a stressful inning for Rodriguez through this entire game. He only allowed three baserunners on the day and not one of them advanced beyond first base. The closest the Reds came, in fact, was on a single from Joey Votto. The Reds star tried to stretch it to a double but was easily thrown out at second on a perfect throw from Andrew Benintendi. That this was the closest Cincinnati got to even advancing beyond first base speaks to how dominant Rodriguez was in this game.
In the end, he tossed 7 2⁄3 innings— the first time he’s gone that deep in a game since May 21 — and he struck out six batters while allowing just three singles and walking two batters. The secondaries were important for Rodriguez, but his fastball was what truly stood out in this game as all six of his strikeouts came on the heater.
As for the offense, they didn’t pound Reds rookie Robert Stephenson as much as many of us would have liked, but they jumped out to an early lead and were able to get Rodriguez some insurance runs later in the game. In that first, they got off to a hot start when Xander Bogaerts ripped a double down the third base line. The Red Sox shortstop hasn’t been perfect of late, but hard contact is becoming more and more common of late at a most ideal part of the season. Bogaerts would move over to third base on a passed ball before scoring on a Brock Holt sacrifice fly.
After Bogaerts’ double, there wasn’t a whole lot of action from the Red Sox lineup though it wasn’t a complete bust either. In the second inning, in fact, Rafael Devers continued to swing a hot bat on a hard-hit double off the wall in right field that looked like it could get into the seats with some luck. He wouldn’t score, but the way he is swinging the bat is nothing but encouraging.
Boston’s lineup would stay quiet for a few innings before entering the sixth with that same 1-0 lead. Things would get much better here as Stephenson was starting to near the end of his rope. This one started on a fielding error by Stephenson on a fairly routine grounder, and he followed that up with a walk to put two on with no out. These are the kind of unforced errors that young pitchers tend to make, and this time Boston made sure he paid for it. Mitch Moreland came up next, and the first baseman got a first-pitch changeup right down the heart of the plate and he made Stephenson pay. The ball was demolished into the seats in right field and just like that the lead was extended to four. Christian Vazquez would follow that up with a single before moving to second, but then he was caught stealing third on a puzzling decision. That would put a halt on any possible rally from the Red Sox.
The Red Sox would get more in the seventh in a nice little two-out rally that started with back-to-back walks from Bogaerts and Holt. Benintendi then came through with a big single to score Bogaerts, though the Red Sox shot themselves in the foot with bad baserunning again as Holt was thrown out at third right after Bogaerts crossed the plate. Still, the lead climbed to five.
The game was left up to the bullpen at this point, and Carson Smith got the call. He came in with a runner on and two outs in the eighth and promptly picked up an inning-ending strikeout. The ninth belonged to Joe Kelly, who tossed a scoreless frame with three strikeouts and two walks to end the game.
Also of note: Luke Farrell got the ball for Cincinnati in the ninth. Farrell, of course, is the son of John, who you may know as the manager of the Red Sox. It was a pretty neat moment. He tossed a scoreless inning, though he did walk two.
So, with the win the Red Sox are guaranteed at least a four game lead heading into Sunday’s action. It could be more, but that’s unlikely as the Yankees have a 5-1 lead in the ninth as I type this. Either way, the magic number to clinch the division is now down to five with eight games to go in the season. Boston will look for their second consecutive sweep on Sunday with Doug Fister on the mound.