This was a strange and mostly exciting game. It seemed frustrating at times as the offense left some opportunities on the table early on and Eduardo Rodriguez went from dominant to underwhelming in the blink of an eye. Through it all, though, they pulled out a win thanks to clutch, late offense led by a big swing from Mitch Moreland, some big hits from Andrew Benintendi and great baserunning by Mookie Betts. On top of that, they got an incredible performance from their bullpen, and specifically Joe Kelly. That’s two in a row for the Sox and they’ll look to take three of four on Sunday.
For the early portions of this game, Rodriguez was mostly in control of this Rangers lineup. He was mixing his pitches up tremendously — something we’ve discussed many times as a key for his success — and he was painting the corners with each of his offerings. The strikeout stuff was there in a big way, and he had good enough command that he was limiting free passes and not allowing too much hard contact. There were a few at bats here and there in which the southpaw struggled to put his opponent away and it got is pitch count a little higher than what you’d want, but things were going well.
He did allow a bit of hard contact to Delino DeShield Jr. in the first at bat, though it ended up in Betts’ glove so no harm no foul. After an easy rest of the first, Rodriguez made his first big mistake of the game. He did start the second off with a big strikeout against the red-hot Nomar Mazara, but he wasn’t so lucky against Joey Gallo. One of the premier power hitters in the game, Rodriguez threw him a changeup down and in and the slugger got all of it, sending it to the moon (or, like 400+ feet down the right field line). That gave Texas a 1-0 lead.
After that home run, Rodriguez settled into a big-time groove. The lefty would retire ten of the next eleven batters he faced, whiffing his opponents left and right and allowing just the one base runner on a walk. It was as impressive of a stretch we’ve seen from him so far in 2018, and Texas still had just the one run through four innings of work.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox offense was going up against Cole Hamels and they struggled in somewhat frustrating fashion. The lefty did get a relatively easy 1-2-3 first, but the Red Sox threatened for a big inning in the second. There, after a quick first out, Boston got themselves three straight baserunners on a double, a walk and an error in which Hamels missed his target at second base on what should have been an inning-ending double play. Instead, the Red Sox had the bases juiced with just one down in a situation that was gifted to them. They didn’t take advantage, however, with Rafael Devers striking out and Christian Vazquez flying out to strand everyone.
It was a frustrating turn of events for a team that has struggled so much against left-handed pitching this year and was looking to gain some momentum heading into their big series against the Yankees. When they failed to take advantage of a situation that was gifted to them, it felt like it would surely come back to bite them. As it turns out, the lineup did struggle to get much of anything going over the next couple of innings. The Red Sox would get just one single over the next two frames to head into the fifth trailing 1-0.
Fortunately, they were gifted another opportunity in this inning, and this time they took advantage. This one started with a one-out walk from Vazquez, and then Betts hit a grounder to third base. The ball when right through the legs of Renato Núñez, putting two in scoring position with just one out. Benintendi was up next, and while he didn’t have a huge swing his soft liner was placed in the right spot as it landed right on top of the second base bag, allowing Vazquez to come in and score to tie the game. That was all they’d get in the inning, but they at least had the game tied with Rodriguez rolling.
In the bottom half of that inning, it seemed as if the Boston lefty was only going to keep rolling. The first two batters he saw in that fifth went down by way of the K before the wheels started to fall off. He allowed a two-out single to Robinson Chirinos, and then Ryan Rua fought his way through a nine-pitch at bat that ended with a walk to put two on with two out for DeShields. The Rangers outfielder got a high fastball that was clocked at under 90 mph, and he took advantage of that poor combination by sending it just over the wall in left field. Just like that, Rodriguez was officially no longer cruising and the Rangers took their lead right back, this time by a 4-1 margin.
The good news is that the Red Sox offense didn’t waste a lot of time to start clawing their way back into this game. J.D. Martinez started things off with a single into right field, and after a Xander Bogaerts strikeout Moreland came up and smashed a two-run shot into the right field bleachers to cut Texas’ lead back down to one.
Of course, the momentum would only last so long as the Rangers got yet another big swing from Gallo. Rodriguez remained in the game for the seventh despite starting to show signs of shakiness, though to his credit he got the first two outs of the inning impressively. Still, Gallo is a different animal and he took a slider down in the zone over the middle of the plate and launched it back out to right field. It was his second homer of the game and Texas’ lead was stretched to two.
That 5-3 lead remained heading into the top of the seventh, and once again the Red Sox started to claw their way back into this. Betts started things off with a walk, then reminded the world that he can kill your soul on the base paths. Here, Benintendi followed him up with a little bloop into left field that went as a double. Jurickson Profar ran out to grab the ball in shallow left field, and was a little lackadaisical getting the ball back in. That was the inch Betts needed as he made his way to the plate to cut Texas’ lead to one. After Benintendi was moved to third on a groundout from Hanley Ramirez, he would be brought in on a Martinez single to tie the game.
Heath Hembree came on to try and preserve the tie in the bottom of the seventh, and he did so in electrifying fashion. The righty has been hot of late and that continued here by striking out the side.
That brought us to the top of the eighth, and the Red Sox were frustrating again. Moreland led things off with a single, and then despite a lefty being on the mound Eduardo Núñez dropped a bunt to move Moreland to second. Núñez has obviously been struggling so I understand the temptation, but it was still a highly questionable decision. Then, with Moreland on second, Devers hit a weak chopper that was corralled by the pitcher. Moreland was off on contact for some reason, however, and easily cut down at third on a horrendous baserunning play. The game stayed tied and two weird at best, bad at worst, decisions cost them.
So, Hembree was back out for the eighth and he got into some quick trouble there. DeShields led things off with a single to put speed on the bases, and then Shin-Soo Choo came through with a double to the left field corner to put two in scoring position with nobody out. Hembree did get a big ground out on which the runners did not advanced before intentionally walking Mazara to load the bases for Gallo.
Hembree didn’t get to face the slugger, however, as Kelly was brought in for this massive situation. The righty did not disappoint and came through with an incredibly clutch outing, striking out Gallo then battling through an eleven-pitch battle with Profar that ended with another strikeout. The Rangers left the bases loaded and the score remained tied heading into the ninth.
The offense, that started so frustrating early on, came through in the ninth. It was Benintendi again, though he did it a little differently this time. Rather than benefitting from weak contact, he smoked a ball to right-center field that just missed clearing the wall. Still, it bounced off and Boston’s young outfielder was in with a one-out triple. Hanley Ramirez followed it up with a fly ball to center field that was deep enough to score the run, and just like that the Red Sox had their first lead of the night.
Heading to the bottom of the ninth, it was up to Craig Kimbrel to preserve the one-run lead. He did so without much trouble, inducing a pop up and getting a couple of strikeouts to record the save. It was the 300th of his career.
The Red Sox will look to take this four-game set and bring a three-game win streak into the Bronx with a win Sunday afternoon. They’ll have Chris Sale on the mound going up against old friend Doug Fister. First pitch is at 3:05 PM ET.