Well, that was not the best way to start a baseball season. Things looked really good for the Red Sox for most of this day before everything just fell apart in the blink of an eye. Chris Sale did have a really good start today though he didn’t have the best control we’ve seen from him. He put the Red Sox in a great position to succeed, which is his job. The offense got to work early and got him an early 3-0 lead on the back of an aggressive approach that we should get used to. Xander Bogaerts in particular stood out, and Eduardo Nuñez hit a damn inside-the-park home run.
The bullpen blew it, though. It’s as simple as that. Joe Kelly couldn’t find the strike zone and Carson Smith could clean up the mess. There is going to be some criticism of Alex Cora for the way he managed this, but I think most of it is unfounded. Kelly was called upon in the eighth inning of a 4-0 lead with the eight, nine and one hitters coming up for Tampa. I’m fine with that decision. It was pretty clear early on that he didn’t have the strike zone, and for that reason I think Cora should have had a quicker hook with the righty. That said, the blow up is almost entirely on Kelly and Smith for not being able to get their jobs done, plain and simple. It’s not the way you want a season to start.
Sale wasn’t entirely himself in this game, but it was undeniably great to watch Sale do Sale things again. He got to work early, too, leaving little doubt about the kind of Sale we’d have the pleasure of watching in 2018. The first inning was a quick one in which the Rays were not able to get a ball to the outfield. In fact, it took a few batters to even make contact as the Red Sox ace struck out the first two batters he faced this season. Both Matt Duffy and Kevin Kiermaier went down against fastballs. After that, Carlos Gomez came up and hit a weak little pop out to shortstop to end the inning.
After that first inning, Sale kind of lost his command and control for a little bit. Granted, we’re talking about losing command/control by his standards, not the normal pitcher. Still, he allowed a couple baserunners in this inning. The southpaw did start things off with two quick outs (including his third strikeout of the day), but followed that up with a walk and a single. To be fair to Sale, it was a pretty weak ground ball to second base that many non-Nuñez infielders would get to. Still, that put two on with two out and they each advanced a base on a wild pitch that looked like a cross-up with Vazquez. With two runners in scoring position and a 3-0 lead in hand, Sale made some big pitches to get his fourth strikeout of the day and end the inning.
That was the most trouble Sale would get into through his six innings of work. He’d walk another batter to lead off the third inning, but from there he’d retire the next eight Rays he’d face. Overall, he’d just allow one more walk and got through six marvelous innings of work. It’s true that Sale didn’t have his best control on the day, particularly on the fastball, but it was a nice reminder that it doesn’t matter much. In addition to the three walks, Sale struck out nine Rays in his six scoreless frames and the only hit he allowed probably would have been fielded by many other second baseman. Last year, and likely later this year, he would/could have gone deeper, having thrown just 92 pitches on the day, but Alex Cora is serious about easing his star pitcher into the season.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, the Red Sox had a tall task ahead of themselves. Chris Archer is no Chris Sale, but he’s still quite talented and not someone against whom you can just expect to score at will. That aggressive approach was on display right from the get-go as Mookie Betts jumped on a fastball in the first pitch of the game and crushed it to deep center field. It didn’t work out as Kevin Kiermaier made an incredible leaping grab to rob the Red Sox right fielder of extra bases, but it was a nice, quick preview of what we can expect from this team this year.
The real action started in the second inning for the Red Sox. J.D. Martinez, in his first at bat with his new team, kicked things off with a walk and Bogaerts started his big day off with a double that was absolutely smoked on a line off the wall in left field. With two runners in scoring position, Rafael Devers hit a weak ground ball that would score the team’s first run of the year. Then, things got real weird when Nuñez came up and hit a little bloop out towards center field. Kiermaier and Denard Span both hustled towards it but just ended up getting in each other’s way. The ball got by them both and Nuñez got all the way around to score on a two-run, inside-the-park home run. You can watch it unfold here. The Red Sox have two home runs in their last two games dating back to last postseason, and both have been of the inside-the-park variety.
After that three-run second inning, Archer got into a groove and the Red Sox struggled to get much of anything going. Boston would get just one baserunner over the next four innings — Bogaerts on a single — and he was doubled up in the next at bat.
Fast-forward to the seventh inning, and things got better. Once again, and this was theme for the Red Sox offense all day long, Bogaerts was the catalyst. The shortstop led off the inning with a double that he crushed out to center field — in just about the same place Betts hit his first-inning shit, in fact — to continue his great day. That was immediately followed up by another double, this time from Devers, and just like that the Red Sox had their fourth run of the game. They couldn’t capitalize any more after that, but it was still nice to get an insurance run.
The Red Sox would turn to their bullpen starting in the seventh, and Matt Barnes got the first call among Boston relievers. It was not very stressful, as the righty got a nice little 1-2-3 inning.
Then we moved to the bottom half of the eighth, and this is when everything fell apart. Joe Kelly was called upon to start the inning for the Red Sox, which was a move that some have criticized in the aftermath. It didn’t go well, but with a 4-0 lead and the bottom of Tampa’s lineup coming up, Kelly seemed like a fine call there. I do think Kelly was left in too long, but the fact is that the righty just didn’t have it. Kelly would walk the first batter he faced, then after getting the first out of the inning he allowed a run-scoring double to Matt Duffy to give Tampa their first run of the game. After that, Kelly walked the next two batters he faced and he left the game with the bases loaded and one out in a two-run game. The Red Sox right was being squeezed a bit by a small strike zone, but he just couldn’t locate anything.
With the Rays now pushing to at least tie the game, if not do more, the Red Sox turned to Carson Smith to escape the jam. For what it’s worth, the Rays were sending up a left-handed Brad Miller first and Boston had lefty Bobby Poyner warming in the ‘pen. Smith got the call, though, and he walked Miller to start his outing. Just like that it was a two-run game. After getting a huge strikeout to get one out from escaping the jam, he allowed a bases-clearing double to Denard Span. DENARD SPAN! He made a bad pitch and the veteran outfielder pounced on it to give the Rays the lead and ultimately the win. Tampa would score another on an infield single. After the Red Sox pitching looked so good all day, they just imploded in the eighth and it cost them the game.
The Red Sox offense had one last chance to at least force a bottom of the ninth, but they couldn’t come through. Nuñez did connect for a little two-out double, but Jackie Bradley Jr. grounded out with the runner in scoring position and that was that. Bleh.
The Red Sox will try to get over this one quickly and pick up their first win of the season on Friday night. David Price is going to get the start against his old team while Blake Snell will be on the mound for Tampa Bay. First pitch will be at 7:10 PM ET. Let’s hope that one goes better than this.