The Red Sox and Orioles played on Sunday despite it not really being baseball weather. It was freezing, with temperatures in the low-to-mid-30s, the wind was howling and there was precipitation at points. It was miserable, is what I’m trying to say. The weather had to be a miserable experience for pitchers and hitters alike, though the former had the advantage in this one. Chris Sale didn’t quite look like himself and was oddly inefficient without his best stuff, but he still managed to have a Chris Sale day because he is incredible. The offense, meanwhile, didn’t quite break out like they have for the rest of this homestand, but they did enough in the second half of this game to squeak out the victory. Heath Hembree, Matt Barnes and Craig Kimbrel all deserve tons of credit for stress-free outings late in this close game. Andrew Benintendi, Mitch Moreland and Tzu-Wei Lin deserve shoutouts for their days at the plate as well. It wasn’t the kind of win we’ve gotten used to in recent days, but a win is a win is a win.
The early parts of this day were marked by an almost complete lack of offense by both sides, but that was to be expected with the aforementioned cold weather and wind. Things were particularly frustrating for the Red Sox offense, both because of the weather, their own failures to come through in important spots and plain good pitching from Dylan Bundy. It can be easy on a day like today to blame poor performance on outside factors — and they certainly played a role today — but Bundy is an extremely talented pitcher and he gave the Red Sox fits for most of this game.
That being said, the team did have some chances against the Baltimore righty in the first half of this game. Those chances did not come in the first, however, when they went down in order on just six pitches. In the second, they managed to get a couple on with just one out when Moreland hit a ground-rule double and Rafael Devers drew walk, but neither Christian Vazquez nor Brock Holt could come through and drive the run in. They’d get runners into scoring position in each of the next two innings as well, but once again they failed to drive them in.
All of that was happening with the team trailing by a run, because the Orioles got to Sale early. The lefty didn’t have his best stuff on Sunday, though I think it’s fair to say at least some of it (and very possibly all of it) was because of the weather. He still pitched very well, but he wasn’t quite as efficient as he usually is. In that first inning he gave up a single to lead things off, and after his first strikeout of the day Manny Machado came to the plate and smacked a liner into left field. The ball rolled all the way into the corner and Trey Mancini was able to get all the way around to give Baltimore a 1-0 lead just three batters into the game. It didn’t bode well for the rest of the day for Sale, but things turned around pretty quickly.
Baltimore would strand Machado at second base with a pair of groundouts, and that would probably be the last best chance they’d have against Sale. He got a pair of strikeouts in a 1-2-3 second, and in the third he did allow another runner into scoring position after a walk and a stolen base but he got Machado to pop one up to end that threat. After a fourth that involved another walk but two more strikeouts, Sale got threw an easy 1-2-3 fifth — by far his easiest inning of the day — before his day was over. As I mentioned above, this was not the most impressive version of Sale we’ve ever seen, which in a way is terrifying for other teams. He was locating fairly well but his fastball was sticking in the low 90s and even high 80s for most of the afternoon, and yet he still managed to strike out eight Orioles in five innings of work. Needing 93 pitches to get through five frames isn’t ideal, but he probably could have gone another inning if it was later in the year and also not February weather.
So, the Red Sox got the bottom of the fifth still trailing 1-0 and struggling to get to Bundy, at least on the scoreboard. They did have a few hard-hit balls scattered throughout the day that just died in the cold and wind, but they needed something to give here. That’s exactly what happened with a rally started with a Lin single. The infielder would be cut out on a Jackie Bradley Jr. fielder’s choice, however. Bradley then got to second on a stolen base, and Benintendi came through with a huge hit. The outfielder got one into the right field corner and got all the way around to third for a game-tying triple.
He’d be stranded there but after Heath Hembree came in for a scoreless sixth, the Red Sox offense got some more thanks to poor defense by Baltimore. J.D. Martinez led things off with a ground ball to third base that was botched by Danny Valencia, and he’d move over to third on a Moreland double. In the next at bat, Bundy got one in the dirt that Joseph couldn’t keep in front of him, and Martinez scored on an ultra-aggressive decision, possibly thanks to a bad throw to the plate from Joseph. Just like that, Boston had their first lead of the game and after two strikeouts with Moreland on third, Brock Holt came through with an infield single that he just barely beat out to extend the lead to two.
So, it was up to the bullpen to protect the lead, and Hembree came back out for the seventh. He did not have any trouble at all, striking out a pair and inducing a groundout to finish off an extremely impressive two-inning stint for him. Matt Barnes came on for the eighth — despite Carson Smith warming in the seventh — and while he allowed one to reach on a walk the righty tossed a scoreless frame to maintain the two-run lead. It was an encouraging outing overall simply due to Barnes’ well-documented struggles in high-leverage spots. So, that brought Craig Kimbrel out to end the game, and he did just that because he’s Craig Kimbrel. An impressive win for the Red Sox given the weather and the opponent on the mound, and they continue the best start in their franchise’s history.
The Red Sox are scheduled to play on Monday in the annual Patriots Day 11 AM game as they try to extend their win streak while also wrapping up their homestand. As of right now, the weather isn’t looking like it will cooperate and it could be the first Patriots Day game to be postponed since 1984. If they do play, it’ll be Brian Johnson going up against Andrew Cashner.