Most of this Tuesday was looking like a distressing night for the Red Sox. Chris Sale was supposed to pitch two innings, but his lack of efficiency led to a longer-than-expected first and that was his only frame on the mound. Meanwhile, the offense was an absolute no-show for most of the night against Ryan Borucki. The young lefty was making Boston’s bats look silly all night, and while he certainly deserves plenty of credit for that it didn’t make it any easier to watch. Fortunately, the bullpen — including Nathan Eovaldi, who was in this role temporarily with Sale serving as an opener — was terrific and Brock Holt came through with a massively clutch pinch hitting appearance. Whatever works. The win also clinched at least a wildcard spot for the Red Sox, not that this was very much in doubt.
At the start of this game, we only had one thing in mind, and that was Chris Sale’s return from the disabled list. We knew he wasn’t going to pitch for long — the plan heading in was for two innings if everything went well — but just seeing him on the mound was going to be great. He came out of the gate firing, with his first pitch clocking in at 97 mph. Despite the gas, he did have a bit of trouble in his first inning back. Lourdes Gurriel started off by hitting a fly ball to right field that just kept carrying and hit off the bottom of the wall for a leadoff double. Sale did come back with a couple of strikeouts, but after hitting Kendrys Morales he was facing two runners on base with two outs. Randall Grichuk had a chance to get Toronto on the board early, but he popped one up out to second base and the inning was over. So, Sale had some solid stuff and didn’t allow a run, but his command wasn’t what we were hoping for. That first inning took 26 pitches, and Sale wouldn’t come back out for a second. He did get some work in the bullpen during the game to get to about 48 pitches total on the day.
Other than the Sale portion of the game, this was largely an uneventful night for much of the game. At the plate, the Red Sox had absolutely nothing against Ryan Borucki. This team has certainly had some issues against left-handed pitching this year, but they’ve been able to handle Borucki in previous matchups this season. Tonight, they had no answers and were looking foolish against the rookie southpaw.
Borucki got going early, coming through with a 1-2-3 inning in the first and striking out three of the first four batters he faced. Steve Pearce was Boston’s first baserunner when he drew a walk in the second, but Ian Kinsler quickly took that off the board with a double play. In the third, the Red Sox finally got their first hit of the game when Jackie Bradley Jr. smacked a line drive into left field with two outs. Unfortuantely, that was all they’d get there. They’d get one more single in the fifth, but again there was nothing doing after that.
Fortunately, while this was going on the Red Sox pitching staff was able to ward off the Blue Jays and keep the game tied. Since Sale’s night ended earlier than they’d planned, Nathan Eovaldi wasn’t ready to come on for the second. Instead, Brandon Workman got the call. It was obviously earlier than he’s used to entering a game, but he did well allowing just a two-out walk in his inning of work.
In the third, Eovaldi was ready and he came on looking to improve upon what has been a rough run for the righty. He did look better than he has been, finally getting some swings and misses to go with his huge velocity and showing off improved command. That led to a solid outing, though he did start things off by walking the first batter he faced. To make up for that, he quickly picked Gurriel off at first base to eliminate that walk, and he then retired the next eight batters he faced. Toronto finally managed another baserunner off Eovaldi in the fifth with a two-out single, but they wouldn’t build off that.
In the bottom of the fifth, Toronto finally started to threaten. Devon Travis led off the inning by scraping a double off the Monster, and then he’d move over to a third after a long at bat from Justin Smoak ended with a flyout. Eovaldi then walked Kendrys Morales, and suddenly there were runners on the corners with just one out. Corey Davis came in to run for Morales, and he’d take off for second during the next at bat. Sandy León threw down to second, prompting Travis to break for home. Kinsler had a chance to get Travis at the plate fairly easily with a good throw, but the second baseman was a bit off balance and his throw was way off the mark, not only allowing Travis to score but also allowing Davis to get to third. The latter would come in to score on a bloop single from Kevin Pillar, and the Blue Jays had a 2-0 lead. That’d mark the end of Eovaldi’s night, with Ryan Brasier coming on. He’d get a strikeout and the inning was over.
So, now the Red Sox offense had four innings to get something going. They didn’t get started in the sixth, once again going down in order.
Finally, after Brasier came back out for a 1-2-3 bottom half of the sixth, Boston’s bats got going a bit. Xander Bogaerts started a rally with a one-out walk, and Steve Pearce made the first big-time contact of the night. He smashed one off the wall in straightaway center field, scoring Bogaerts on a stand-up triple. That would end Borcuki’s night, and Ryan Tepera came on with a man on third and one out. Tepera got a big strikeout of Kinsler for the second out, and after Eduardo Núñez drew a walk it looked like it was going to be Mitch Moreland’s chance to be a hero again. He was in the on deck circle for Sandy León, but at the last second Alex Cora called Moreland back in favor of Brock Holt. It seemed like an absurd decision, so of course it worked out better than we could have ever imagined. Holt got a fastball middle-in and he smoked one out over the wall in right field, and the Red Sox suddenly had a 4-2 lead.
So, now that they had the lead, it was up to the bullpen. Matt Barnes is still on the shelf with a hip injury, so Cora opted to play the matchups game in the eighth. Hector Velazquez came on first and he tossed two pitches for one out before being lifted for Bobby Poyner. The lefty got one out but then allowed a single to Yangervis Solarte, and that was the end of his night. Joe Kelly was then tasked with ending the inning, and he did just that with a strikeout.
The Red Sox were able to get three insurance runs in the top half of the ninth, and Craig Kimbrel was able to take a seat in the bullpen. Instead, Heath Hembree came on to try and finish this one off. He did just that with a 1-2-3 ninth, and the Red Sox had their second straight win and a guaranteed postseason berth.
The Red Sox take the first of this three-game set, and they will look to clinch a series victory on Tuesday. David Price will take the mound taking on Aaron Sanchez on Wednesday, with first pitch coming at 7:10 PM ET.
To make matters even better, the Red Sox have gotten one step closer to a third straight division title. The win knocked their magic number down to 10 games, and the Yankees are currently in Minnesota trailing 10-1 in the fifth. If that result holds, the Red Sox will have a nine-game lead with a magic number of nine. That’s pretty neat!