This was another relatively close game against the Angels, but it ended the same way as the previous five meetings between these two sides. That’s with a victory, giving the Red Sox their first six-game season series sweep over any team. Ever. (According to Tom Caron) This one saw mostly good pitching performances, particularly from spot starter Brian Johnson as well as Hector Velazquez. The offense wasn’t as hot as they’ve been in other recent games, but they got a couple of timely home runs and once again the bottom of the order contributed in a big way. Sprinkle in some magical outfield defense, and you’ve got yourself a victory.
The Red Sox were looking to Johnson for a spot start with Steven Wright on the disabled list, and it was not entirely clear what we could expect from the lefty. He was, of course, in the rotation to start the year and showed both good and bad flashes. Since then, he’s been a multi-inning reliever hardly used in important situations. We know he has the potential to put up solid numbers against a team like the Angels, but Los Angeles also has enough talent in their lineup that a blow-up outing wasn’t out of the question. Johnson was a wildcard, and we were holding on to our butts to put it scientifically.
Well, as it turns out the southpaw was totally serviceable. He wasn’t totally dominant or anything, but he rarely ever is. What he was able to do, though, was command all of his pitches for most of the night and induce mostly weak contact while relying on the defense behind him at times as well. It was a short outing for Johnson, but that had much more to do with him not really being stretched out right now than his performance on Thursday.
In the box score the first was a breezy inning as Johnson set the top of the Angels lineup down in order, but it was a little more complicated than that. Justin Upton flew out for the third out, but he crushed a ball to straightaway center field that Jackie Bradley Jr. was able to somehow get to and grab in leaping fashion against the wall. It was one of those catches that isn’t even really a surprise anymore, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t incredible.
Over the next couple of innings, Johnson would continue to put zeroes on the board but he had to work around a bit of trouble in both frames. In the second, it wasn’t much as he only allowed a two-out single. The third was a little more difficult when he allowed a two-out single to Ian Kinsler and followed that up with a walk to Mike Trout. All of a sudden the Angels had their first runner in scoring position, but Johnson induced a grounder to end the inning.
The fourth was the worst inning for the lefty, and it was just because of one pitch. After getting Albert Pujols to line out to start the inning, he threw a curveball to Andrelton Simmons. The pitch didn’t quite break far enough below the zone, however, and the Angels shortstop was all over it. He smoked it off the AAA sign in left field, and Los Angeles suddenly had a 1-0 lead. Johnson would get a couple of fly outs after that to end the inning, and his night. Again, it wasn’t anything super special, but it was definitely solid enough given the circumstances.
Unfortunately, the Red Sox offense must have seen a lefty on the mound and confused him for Chris Sale, because they struggled to score runs. FOLKS. They were going up against Jaime Barria, who is frustratingly the type of pitcher against whom they seem to struggle. The righty is a rookie with a relatively small amount of tape, and he relies on command and good offspeed pitches rather than overpowering stuff. The Red Sox did make some hard contact early on that didn’t do damage, but for the most part they were frustrated in each at bat.
Really, they didn’t get much of anything going at all over the first four innings. They went down in order in the first, and while they did get a double from Xander Bogaerts in the second he was stranded in scoring position. After that, they managed just a single in the third and a walk in the fourth. It was a whole lot of nothing.
Things did change a bit for them in the fifth. After Hector Velazquez came out of the bullpen for a scoreless top half of the inning, Rafael Devers led off the bottom half. He was able to get to a 2-0 count, and then Barria threw him a fastball at the bottom of the strike zone over the middle of the plate. Devers loves that pitch, and he smacked it into the seats in straightaway center field to tie the game at one. It seemed like the Sox may be able to build a big inning from there when Christian Vazquez hit a ball that reached the Monster on a couple bounces, but he tried to stretch it into a double. He actually did beat the throw, but his hand came off the bag on the slide and he was tagged out. That would be the first of three consecutive outs.
Velazquez came back out for another scoreless inning in the sixth — this one a 1-2-3 inning with a pair of strikeouts — and the Red Sox rewarded him with a rally in the bottom half. Following a quick first out, J.D. Martinez would work a walk and then move over to third when Mitch Moreland poked a double off the Monster in left-center field off new pitcher Jose Alvarez. With a pair in scoring position, the Angels opted to intentionally walk Bogaerts to load the bases for Brock Holt. That would turn out to be a mistake, as Alvarez walked Holt to plate a run and give Boston a 2-1 lead. Unfortunately, they couldn’t keep the magic going as Devers grounded into a 1-2-3 double play to end the inning.
So, the Red Sox had their first lead of the game, and Brandon Workman was called upon in the seventh to hold on. He’d work around a two-out walk for a scoreless inning. The Red Sox would then use the bottom of the inning to add a bit of cushion to that lead off old friend Noe Ramirez. Vazquez started things off with a single, and then Bradley smashed a high fastball into the Angels bullpen for a two-run shot. Boston suddenly had a 4-1 lead.
Joe Kelly came on for the eighth, and he continued to struggle in the month of June. Things started with a walk to Trout, and from there Upton and Pujols contributed back-to-back singles. That cut the lead to two with two runners on and still nobody out. Things could have gotten worse, but he got some help from his defense. Simmons hit a line drive that was falling in right field, but Betts got there and made the grab. Then, David Fletcher hit a drive to deep left field, but Benintendi made a huge leaping catch at the wall to save at least one run and record the second out. After that, Kelly got a routine fly ball and the inning was over with the Sox still up 4-2.
The ninth belonged to Craig Kimbrel, and while he’d issue a one-out walk to Kole Calhoun he worked around that for a scoreless inning and the save.
The Red Sox will look to carry this momentum into New York as they start a huge series against the Yankees on Friday. They’ll be sending Eduardo Rodriguez to the mound for game one as the Yankees counter with C.C. Sabathia. First pitch is at 7:05 PM ET.