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Red Sox 3, Rays 2: It’s Xander’s world, we’re just livin’ in it

Xander Bogaerts cannot be stopped, and Rick Porcello was pretty damn good too.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Xander Bogaerts is incredible, you guys. Once again the Red Sox offense struggled a bit, particularly with runners in scoring position, but for the second straight night it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter because Bogaerts was able to put the lineup on his back for the third straight game, and because the Red Sox starter put forth a phenomenal outing. This time, it was Rick Porcello shutting down the Rays. At some point we’re going to need to see a better performance from this Red Sox lineup, but we’re still only three games in and in the meantime we can bask in the glory that is Xander.

Bogaerts is easily the most exciting part of this three-game stretch to start the 2018 season, but the starting pitching performances Boston has gotten early on is nothing to sneeze at either. After Chris Sale dazzled and David Price just demoralized his former team, it was Rick Porcello’s chance to shine in what we all hope if a big bounce-back for the 2016 Cy Young winner. He wasn’t quite on the same level as the first two Red Sox starters, but he also isn’t expected to be. Porcello gave his team a phenomenal outing and got his 2018 off to the kind of start we all wanted and, frankly, needed to see.

Porcello, much like Sale and Price, got off to a quick and efficient start, showing he was in the zone right from the jump. This was particularly encouraging because it seems as if when Porcello is going poorly he starts off slow before settling it after falling behind. This time around, he retired the first eight Rays he faced. Additionally, he did it by mixing up his methods of recording outs, with four flyouts, two groundouts and two strikeouts. This is the kind of Porcello the Red Sox needed with phenomenal command all over the egdes of the zone.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

He did end up in a little bit of trouble in the third, allowing two baserunners after recording two quick outs. The first was on a walk and then he allowed a single to Denard Span on a little half-swing that led to a ball sneaking by the third base bag. Porcello escaped the jam shortly after. Following a quick fourth inning that included just an infield single and a 2-0 lead given to him from the offense, the Red Sox starter did get into a little more trouble in the fifth. After a quick first out thanks to some nifty defense at the hot corner from Eduardo Nuñez, Porcello allowed back-to-back singles that were a little more legitimate than the first two hits he allowed in this game, to put a pair of Rays on with just one out. No worries, though, as he got a big strikeout against Span before inducing an inning-ending pop out from Kevin Kiermaier.

There were more issues for Porcello in the sixth, though again it wasn’t anything too major. The frame started with a Carlos Gomez double on a ball he ripped over Andrew Benintendi’s head in center field, easily the scariest contact made against the Red Sox starter all night. After another big strikeout, Porcello allowed a single to Matt Duffy to put runners on the corner and his night was over. Again, it was a quick hook in the early season for Alex Cora, pulling Porcello with just 89 pitches. Heath Hembree came on to try and escape the jam, but he allowed a run on a sac fly in his first at bat of the year. He’d allow another runner into scoring position on a wild pitch before getting a huge strikeout to limit the damage to one and keep Boston with a two-run lead. In the end, Porcello allowed the one run — the first allowed by a Red Sox starter this year — while striking out four batters in 5 13 innings.

The offense, meanwhile, is still waiting for its big breakout game of 2018 but just like they did on Friday they did just enough to win this one as well. Also just like Friday, Bogaerts was at the center of it all. With the Rays throwing out relievers for the entire game, the Red Sox offense went down with just three batters coming to the plate in the first before Bogaerts was unleashed in the second. This is when he went yard, taking a fastball down the heart of the plate up a little in the zone and pulling it out into the left field seats. It was the kind of swing we haven’t seen enough from Bogaerts in recent years and the swing we’ve seen so often in the first three games. Watch it here.

That was all the damage that would be done for a couple innings, though Mookie Betts did hit a ground-rule double in the third only to be stranded at second. In the fourth, things started with a double from Hanley Ramirez (followed by a little Fortnite dance because Happy Hanley is the best). It looked like he might be stranded there too after two quick outs, but then the Sox rallied. Mitch Moreland drew a walk, with Ramirez somehow stealing third on ball four, to bring up Eduardo Nuñez, and he put the ball in play leading to an error by third baseman Matt Duffy to score a run. It was lucky, but the Red Sox deserve some luck, dammit.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With a 2-0, the Red Sox would keep adding to it in the sixth, and wouldn’t you know Bogaerts was involved here too. It started with J.D. Martinez, getting his first hit with his new team in the form of a double he smashed off the wall in right-center field. With the slugger at second base, Bogaerts hit his 78th double of 2018 to drive in the run and extend Boston’s lead to three. Unfortunately, that was all they’d do after starting the inning with back-to-back two-baggers.

So, after Hembree allowed the inherited run to score, he was back out in the seventh as the Red Sox bullpen looked to protect another lead and put the team over .500 three games into the year. The righty got two quick outs in the inning before walking Span, bringing up Kiermaier as the tying run. Alex Cora deemed this as an acceptable time for lefty Bobby Poyner to make his major-league debut, and his intuition proved correct. The southpaw induced a little pop up on the infield to end the inning and maintain the lead.

The Red Sox had a chance to extend their lead in the eighth when Martinez and Bogaerts hit back-to-back singles and a Brock Holt walk eventually loaded the bases. Sandy Leon came up with the bases full and two outs, and it was curious that he was up at all. It seems like a huge advantage of having three catchers on the roster is that you can pinch hit for your starter in this kind of situation — in this case with Rafael Devers, Blake Swihart or Jackie Bradley Jr. — without worrying about only having one catcher left. Cora decided to leave Leon in, though, and the catcher struck out to end the rally without a run being scored. It was an easily second-guessable decision that had the potential to come back to bite the team.

Cora then made another curious decision to leave Poyner in after finishing off the seventh with the right-handed Gomez leading things off. The Rays outfielder made the rookie southpaw pay for a mistake, pounding a pitch into the left-center seats for a solo home run to cut Boston’s lead to 3-2. After Poyner got a pop out, Cora came out to get Carson Smith out to try and finish off the eighth. Smith immediately allowed a base hit to Duffy to put the tying run on base, and after a big strikeout Duffy stole second in the next at bat. Adeiny Hechavarria worked a tough plate appearance against the Red Sox righty, but eventually flew out to center field to strand the runner in scoring position and preserve Boston’s one-run lead.

The Red Sox failed to score again in the ninth, leaving it up to Craig Kimbrel to lock things down in a one-run game for the second straight night. It was a scary start, with the closer walking the very speedy Mallex Smith to kick things off. C.J. Cron then came up as a pinch hitter, and he hit a weak little liner out towards shortstop. Bogaerts came in to catch it before it hit the ground, and Smith was way off the bag and got doubled up to clean the bases and give Boston two outs. He’d get a pop out from Span after that to end the game and earn his second consecutive save.

So, the Red Sox are up over .500 and tied with the Yankees. Yeah, I guess we’re already scoreboard watching. Boston will try to take the series on Sunday afternoon with Hector Velazquez taking the mound for the Sox going up against Tampa’s Jacob Faria. First pitch comes at 1:10 PM ET.