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Red Sox 4, Rays 3: Sandy Leon plays hero as Sox avoid sweep

J.D. Martinez performed at the plate, Rick Porcello was solid and Craig Kimbrel got a four-out win.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox will continue into the month of May without having been swept this year, though it was a close call on Sunday. They were behind for much of this game as once again the offense got off to a slow start. They’d come through when it counted, though, with a group effort that was led by a 4-4 J.D. Martinez and punctuated with a clutch hit from none other than Sandy Leon. The hero we all expected, of course. Rick Porcello, meanwhile, got the Red Sox in a bit of an early hole but he was far from bad and made it deep into the game without walking any batters. In other words, it was mostly what you expect from the Red Sox righty. It’s been a rough week for this team, but when the dust has settled they are still 4-5 over their last nine games which.....isn’t bad for what seems like a horrible stretch.

For much of this game, as has been the case for much of this past week or so, the offense went totally silent for the early parts of the game. It’s a far cry from where they were at the beginning and middle of this month when seemingly every night was started with a big inning or two in the first third of the game to build an early lead. This time, they were going up against a bullpen day for the Rays, and specifically against Matt Andriese. They didn’t really get much of anything going with the righty on the mound.

In fact, through the first three innings they’d get just one baserunner on a J.D. Martinez single. Everyone else went down easily the first time through, with just a little bit of hard contact here and there. In the fourth, they did get to Andriese a little bit, though there was still nothing coming just yet. That inning actually started with a gut punch as Andrew Benintendi ripped a line drive that looked destined for right field, but Joey Wendle made an impossible leaping grab. After that Hanley Ramirez got hit by a pitch — and he was really pissed off about it for reasons unbeknownst to me — and Martinez followed that up with a single.

That finished the day for Andriese, and Jonny Venters came on and finished the inning with no damage done. Venters would come back for one more out in the fifth before Andrew Kittredge finished off the 1-2-3 frame. So, through five innings the Red Sox offense had done a whole lot of nothing, managing just three baserunners and only one advancing beyond first base.

Meanwhile, Porcello was looking to continue his phenomenal start to the season but for most of this game he was simply good rather than otherworldly. With the way the offense had been going, it seemed they were going to need more. The righty did get through the first two innings without allowing a baserunner, though he did need a little bit of help from a tremendous diving play by Rafael Devers in the first.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

In the third, things started to turn a bit. Adeiny Hechavarria started things off with a single, and he’d quickly move to second on a pickoff attempt gone awry. As it turned out, it wouldn’t matter what base he was standing on. After a couple of quick outs, Denard Span came up and with a 1-1 count he got a changeup that stayed flat in the middle of the zone and he crushed it out to right field for the first home run allowed by Porcello in 2018. 2-0 Rays.

After Porcello got out of that inning, there was a little more trouble waiting for him in the fourth. There, after a quick first out Brad Miller smacked a double into the left-center field gap, and with two outs Mallex Smith came up with a big single through the right side. Jackie Bradley Jr. was playing out there today in Mookie Betts’ absence, and it seemed he’d have a shot at getting Miller at the plate, but his throw sailed up the third base line and the Rays took a 3-0 lead.

Porcello would settle down from there, fortunately, and get through the next two innings with just one single allowed. As it turned out, those scoreless innings turned out to be pretty important.

They were important because the Red Sox bats started to get going in the sixth with Kittredge still on the mound. That inning started with Eduardo Nuñez smoking out at the third baseman and benefitting from a huge bounce that eluded Daniel Robertson, giving Boston a leadoff single. Benintendi would follow that up with a walk and Ramirez got a single to load the bases for Martinez, looking for his third hit of the game. He’d get just that with a seeing-eye single through the left side to get two runners home. Just like that the lead was down to one.

After that, Mitch Moreland got the bases loaded right back up with a walk and that was it for Kittredge. Sergio Romo was coming it to try and clean up the mess, and all things considered he did a pretty good job. Devers was up first and he had a bad strikeout when he watched a flat slider up in the zone go by for strike three. Bradley did come through, not with a hit but a deep enough fly ball to score Martinez. That was all they’d get, and it could have been more, but the game was tied after six.

Porcello would come back out for the seventh and once again he had a pretty solid inning working around a leadoff single. Following a 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh, Porcello would come back in for the eighth. He got a couple of quick outs there before allowing a two-out single, and that was the end of his night. In all, he lasted 7 23 innings allowing just the three runs on seven hits and six strikeouts without issuing a walk.

Interestingly, it was Craig Kimbrel coming out in the eighth in a move that Alex Cora has not been willing to make up until this point. Wendle was up first, and Kimbrel should have gotten an out right away when he allowed a flyball to left field. Unfortunately, Martinez was in the field today and he failed to read the ball off the bat. The left fielder stood frozen for a second too long and couldn’t recover, allowing the ball to get to the wall to put two in scoring position for Miller. Kimbrel dialed in during that at bat and got a huge three-pitch strikeout to escape the danger and keep the game tied at three.

So, the Red Sox came to bat in the bottom half of the eighth going up against Rays closer Alex Colomé, and Martinez led things off. The slugger almost got hit in the face with a fastball late in the count, then hung in for the next pitch to smack his fourth single of the day. After Moreland struck out, Devers looked like he had a big hit off the Monster but Span made a terrific leaping grab against the wall to save at least a single and probably a double. After Bradley walked, it was up to Sandy Leon, who many people wanted to see out of the game for a pinch hitter. Silly us, as the catcher came through in the big spot with an RBI single to give Boston the 4-3 lead.

That meant it was up to Kimbrel to come back out and finish things off. Things got real dicy in that ninth inning in wildly frustrating fashion. Robertson led things off with a line drive single, though it came right after a pitch that looked like an easy strike three call. Then, Mallex Smith hit a weak ground ball that was picked up behind the mound by Devers and instead of taking the sure out at first he threw to Nuñez at second, who was not ready. Just like that there were two on with nobody out. Hechavarria would then bunt them both into scoring position, bringing up Jesus Sucre. The Rays catcher struck out to put two in scoring position with two outs with Carlos Gomez up as a pinch hitter. Kimbrel came through in the high-pressure situation, blowing a fastball by Gomez to end the game. Winner winner chicken dinner.

The Red Sox will be back at Fenway Monday night as they look to get back to winning series. They’ll be going up against a struggling Royals team and will send Eduardo Rodriguez to the hill to take on Jason Hammel. First pitch is at 7:05 PM ET.


Courtesy of Fangraphs