So, uh, I kind of forgot that that was what playoff baseball was like. Good lord. There was a lot going on in the first game on this ALDS, and obviously I chronicle it below. I’ll also have some more fleshed out thoughts tomorrow morning when I have some time to contain myself. For now, though, let me just say a few things. Good on the offense for jumping out early. Good on Chris Sale for looking like Chris Sale. Bad on the bullpen for, well, just about everything. Bad on Alex Cora for some weird managing of said bullpen. And, perhaps most underratedly, good on Sandy León for saving about a billion passed balls while the bullpen was trying its best to implode. This was a terrifying game that took years off of my life, but it was a win. 1-0 Red Sox.
If you’ve been following along with this team over the last month of the regular season, you’ll likely remember a theme from every Chris Sale start. He was, of course, the story of every game in which he appeared, what with the Red Sox not really having much to play for beyond getting prepared for October. In every one of his starts, he was presented with a somewhat limited workload. And in every one of his starts, he hit the workload without getting to the number of innings for which he was aiming. His velocity, somewhat famously, wasn’t where it had been all year and more importantly (in my opinion, at least) the command of all of his pitches was out of whack. There was some reasonable expectation that he was holding himself back a bit in advance of the postseason, but with no way to be sure it was only natural to be at least a little concerned about the Red Sox ace before the playoffs got under way.
Well, he answered the questions in Game One at Fenway against this vaunted Yankees lineup. Sale came out of the gate firing, with his first pitch coming in at 96 mph. Game on. It wasn’t just the fastball velocity, either. Although he wasn’t as consistently sharp all night long as he can be, he was pretty damn close and had New York’s bats off-balance all night long. He did walk Aaron Hicks in the first inning, but other than that free pass he set down the other three batters he faced, two of which succumbed to sliders with the other going down on a changeup.
The one bad thing about that first inning was that it took Sale 24 pitches, and it looked like it could be another inefficient outing for the lefty. He took care of that later on. In the second he did allow his first hit of the game on a leadoff single, but then struck out Didi Gregorius on a slider before getting an inning-ending double play. That was a ten-pitch inning. The third was a little bit longer as he had to face four batters thanks to a walk, but no runner advanced beyond first base.
The fourth started with a little bit of trouble, once again because of Hicks. The Yankees center fielder, who is known for his tremendous plate discipline, worked an eleven-pitch at bat that ended with a single. However, he would come up a little lame heading into first base, and he left the game with Brett Gardner taking his place. After two more strikeouts following the base hit Sale did allow his first runner into scoring position when Gregorius reached on an infield single that advanced Gardner to second. Sale came right back and got Miguel Andújar for his third strikeout of the inning, though, and kept his shutout going.
After that somewhat lengthy fourth, in terms of pitch count at least, Sale came back out for a dominant nine-pitch fifth.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox offense had a tall task ahead of them in the Yankees starter. At least, that was the narrative with the left-handed J.A. Happ traditionally tormenting Boston in the past. It was going to be key to not let him settle into a groove and to set a tone early in this series. If you’ll recall the past two postseasons, the Red Sox fell behind early in five of those six ALDS games in 2016 and 2017. That wasn’t the case this time around.
It did get off to a rough start when Mookie Betts went down swinging in the first at bat of the game, but the Red Sox quickly got going after that. Andrew Benintendi started the rally with a single that snuck through the left side, and on the first pitch of the next at bat the Red Sox left fielder swiped second base. After Steve Pearce drew a walk, J.D. Martinez stepped up for his first postseason at bat in a Red Sox uniform. Folks, this is what they paid for. Happ tried to sneak an inside fastball by the slugger, and he ripped a line drive into the first row of the Monster Seats. Just like that, it was a 3-0 lead for the Red Sox after one inning.
Boston would go down in order in the second, but with the top of the order coming back up against Happ in the third, they were ready to do some more damage. This time, Betts didn’t go down. He was robbed of a walk thanks to a questionable strike zone, but that ended up working out because he scraped the Monster for a leadoff double. After a Benintendi drag bunt put runners on the corners, Happ was lifted from the game. It wouldn’t matter, because Pearce knocked one in with an RBI single and a couple batters later Xander Bogaerts hit a sacrifice fly (or, more accurately, a sacrifice liner) and the Red Sox had a 5-0 lead.
After that, the Red Sox would go down somewhat quietly for a few innings and the score was still 5-0 heading into the top of the sixth. There, Sale started to look more human than he had all night. His velocity was starting to drop as his pitch count got close to 90 and he wasn’t quite as sharp. Aaron Judge started that inning off with a sharp base hit into center field, and after a Gardner fielder’s choice, Giancarlo Stanton got a single of his own. That ended Sale’s night, and it was up to the Red Sox bullpen now.
Ryan Brasier came on first with two runners on and just one out. It did not start out well, with Luke Voit ripping a base hit down the first base line to score New York’s first run of the night. That would bring Gregorius up to the plate with runners on the corners, and he hit what looked to be a double play ball. Unfortunately for Brasier and the Red Sox, it was hit too softly to get two, and they’d settle for just the out at second while New York closed the gap to 5-2. After a wild pitch put Gregorius on second base, Brasier issued a walk to Andújar and the tying run was coming up to the plate.
That ended Brasier’s night, and now it was up to Brandon Workman with two on and two out against Gary Sanchez. The righty issued a four-pitch walk, and the bases were loaded. That brought up Gleyber Torres, and the young infielder worked a full count but eventually left the bases loaded with a strikeout, and the score was 5-2 after the top half of the sixth.
After Boston managed just a walk in the bottom half, Workman came back up against the top of New York’s lineup in the seventh. The righty gave up back-to-back base hits to lead off the inning, and Matt Barnes was called in to try and work out of the trouble. Just two pitches into the outing he threw a wild pitch, and suddenly both runners were in scoring position. Barnes then walked Gardner, and the bases were loaded and there was still nobody out with Stanton coming to the plate. Barnes got a huge strikeout on Stanton, bringing Voit to the plate. The Yankees first baseman hit a ground ball to Núñez at third base, and they’d get the out at second but they couldn’t quite turn the double play, allowing another run to score and putting runners on the corners with two outs in a two-run game for Gregorius. Barnes would get the ground out, and while New York cut the lead to two it could have been worse.
The Red Sox got just a single against Zach Britton in the seventh, and shockingly it was Rick Porcello coming out for the top half of the eighth. The righty pitched very well, getting two outs to kick things off before Torres came to the plate. The Yankees infielder hit a slow roller down the third base line and it was placed well enough for an infield single. That was it for Porcello, and Craig Kimbrel was coming on to attempt the four-out save. He started out well, inducing an inning-ending pop up from Andrew McCutchen.
The closer would be right back out there in the ninth with his team still leading by two and Judge, Gardner and Stanton due up. Things got off to a terrible start with Judge putting one into the Yankees bullpen for a solo homer, and suddenly it was a one-run lead. Kimbrel did the damn thing after that, though, getting three straight strikeouts and Boston snuck outta there with a 1-0 series lead.
The Red Sox and Yankees will be right back in action on Saturday night for Game Two of this series. First pitch at Fenway will be at 8:00 PM ET and Boston will send David Price to the mound against Masahiro Tanaka.