This team is absolutely rolling right now, and every game lately seems to be going the same way in the best way possible. The offense jumps all over the opponents’ starting pitcher, opening up an early lead and immediately making it seem as if it’s their game to lose. The starting pitcher then refuses to give that early lead back, allowing more time for the offense to truly open things up and leave only mop-up duty for the bullpen. It can’t stay like this forever (I think?), but we’ll enjoy the hell out of it while it lasts. This game in particular was highlighted by a big day at the plate from J.D. Martinez as well as Hanley Ramirez and Andrew Benintendi, and the Red Sox also got a strong performance on the mound from Hector Velazquez. The bad news is that Mookie Betts was forced to leave with an injury, though the word is that it’s not a terribly major injury.
Besides the Betts injury, which we’ll get to in a second, everything went swimmingly for the Red Sox. As they’ve been doing so often lately, and as Alex Cora envisioned when he took over as manager of this club, Boston’s offense got the team out to an early start and handed the day’s starter an early cushion. It’s hard to quantify just how important that can be, but as a fan who is just watching on the ol’ Tee Vee is certainly seems big. Getting the flow of the game in your favor and allowing your starter a feeling of breathing room right from the outset is such a tremendous change of pace compared to last season.
Going up against Alex Cobb, a former Ray against whom most of this lineup has plenty of experience, the Red Sox pounced as soon as they got the chance. Betts led the bottom of the first off with a walk, and then Benintendi hit the double. It was a somewhat aggressive send to get Betts home, but he’s the kind of baserunner with whom you want to be aggressive. Unfortunately, things went poorly as the throw to try and get Betts at the plate brought Orioles catcher Chance Sisco up the line. It didn’t seem like an illegal blocking of the plate to me, but rather an unfortunate set of circumstances that caused Betts’ lower leg to collide with Sisco. You can make your own judgement. The outfielder scored, but he was down in pain. Though he did come back to the field the next inning, Betts would eventually be replaced in the outfield with Jackie Bradley Jr. and Benintendi each moving one spot to the right and Blake Swihart coming in at left field. The good news is that the X-Rays came back negative and he’s listed as day-to-day.
So, the injury was not great, but the Red Sox did get a 1-0 lead on the play, and they only kept going from there. Ramirez came up next in his first game back since being hit in the wrist in the first inning on Thursday night, and he got a splitter in the heart of the zone and smoked it into the Monster Seats. Ramirez is in an absolute zone right now, and missing that (almost) two-game stretch didn’t slow him down.
The 3-0 lead would stand into the third, and this time it was Martinez who joined the party. There’s been some fear that his opposite-field power wouldn’t play as well at Fenway, but it did in this instance at least. Cobb hung a breaking ball belt-high a little towards the outer half and Martinez sent it into the bullpen to give Boston a 4-0 lead. In the fourth, Boston broke it wide open. They got singles from Sandy Leon and Tzu-Wei Lin — getting production from the entire lineup and not just the top had taken the Red Sox’ recent offensive performances from good to great — and then Benintendi knocked them in. Ramirez came up next to drive in another with a double, and then Martinez reached on a throwing error from Manny Machado that sent the ball out of play and Ramirez to the plate, giving the Red Sox eight runs on the day. They’d eventually plate a couple more on RBI singles from Martinez and Swihart.
While all of this was happening, Boston was getting what is just their latest phenomenal pitching performance, this time from Velazquez. Coming into the year, the righty was seen as the eighth man on the rotation depth chart, but in two starts this year, as well as a couple appearances out of the bullpen, he’s looked more than competent. It’s not that he was consistently dominant in this outing — the top of the Orioles lineup was able to make some solid contact even if they couldn’t convert it into many runs — but he flashed dominance at times and never really got into any major trouble.
That hard contact showed up some in the first inning, though it wasn’t the kind of hard contact that left the yard or did any real damage. Baltimore got a leadoff single there but that was it. Then, in the second, Velazquez came back in a big way and struck out all three batters he faced. He’d allow a couple of baserunners in each of the third and fourth innings — and in the fourth it was two leadoff runners — but got out of both jams without allowing a run.
By the fifth, it was clear that Velazquez was starting to fatigue a bit as he went up over the 80-pitch mark. It doesn’t sound like a lot of pitches, but remember he’s been used in the bullpen in his last two most recent outings, threw only 79 pitches in his one other start and obviously didn’t throw a ton of pitches in any outing at spring training. Anyway, in that inning he allowed a one-out double and then two batters later Velazquez left a sinker up in the zone and Pedro Alavrez made him pay by smashing it into the center-field seats to give Baltimore two runs. That was all they’d get off Velazquez, who finished the day with five innings and he allowed just those two runs on six hits and a walk while racking up five strikeouts. The top-end players have been huge for Boston this year, but depth pieces like Velazquez stepping up as he did today is the key for good teams to be great.
So, it was just up to the bullpen to prevent a catastrophic collapse, and they were unsurprisingly able to do so. Joe Kelly came on first and tossed a 1-2-3 inning partially thanks to absurd defense from Bradley in right field. Marcus Walden got the call next, and he was able to finish the game off allowing just one more run. With that, the Red Sox had another win and extended their record to a franchise-best 12-2.
Boston now has three wins in a row after their recent nine-game streak was snapped, and they’ll look to extend the current streak to four on Sunday in game three of this series. That is, as long as the weather cooperates. If the game does get in it’s going to be the best pitching matchup of the series with Chris Sale taking on Dylan Bundy. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 PM ET.