This Red Sox-Indians series is objectively meaningless, and yet it’s been pretty damn entertaining. Saturday was the second straight close one, though Boston couldn’t come out on top this time around. Rick Porcello got the start and did not look good, though he also didn’t put the team out of the game. A couple solo dingers, a clutch hit from Andrew Benintendi and a strong performance out of the bullpen from Brian Johnson helped push the game to extras, but ultimately Drew Pomeranz lost it. Oh well.
The Red Sox are really looking for Rick Porcello to figure things out heading into the postseason, though he’s running out of time. Granted, they don’t quite need him to be the guy who won the Cy Young in 2016, they just need the guy who can limit hard contact and keep the ball in the yard. That has not been him over the last couple months, and it was not him on Saturday either. To be fair, the results weren’t terrible for Porcello and he did get a couple of weakly hit balls when he needed them, but for the most part he wasn’t impressive. Cleveland was hitting the ball hard throughout the five innings he was on the mound, and if we’ve being honest they probably could have scored more than the four runs they plated off Porcello.
The righty did actually get off to a decent start, though again that first inning had better results than the contact he gave up. Although Porcello allowed just a single in the frame, he have up a couple of hard-hit outs mixed in there. Still, he was scoreless after one. That didn’t last through two. Josh Donaldson and Melky Cabrera started this inning with a pair of singles within the first three at bats, and that brought up Yan Gomes. The Indians catcher had a big game on Friday, and he carried that into the second contest of the series. He ripped a double off the wall in left field, scoring one and giving Cleveland a lead. They’d grab another run in the inning as well when Francisco Lindor came through with a two-out, RBI single. Gomes was thrown out trying to make it a two-run single.
The third was pretty similar to that second inning, as Porcello was still struggling to find his groove. That inning started with two straight baserunners on a single and a walk, though the Red Sox did get a big double play from Edwin Encarnacion after that. They did have a runner on third, but there were two outs now. As Alex Speier pointed out on Twitter, that was just the third double play induced by Porcello in his last 18 starts. Not great! Anyway, the righty couldn’t get out of the trouble after the double play, as Josh Donaldson knocked in a run with an RBI single.
In the fourth, Porcello once again couldn’t avoid damage, though this time it wasn’t all his fault. It seemed he’d have two quick outs to start the inning, but Xander Bogaerts booted a routine play with one out, giving Cleveland a baserunner. After a walk, Lindor got another RBI single, and for the third consecutive inning Porcello allowed a run. He did avoid further damage after that before tossing a 1-2-3 inning in his fifth and final trip to the mound. All told, though, it was not an ideal night for the Red Sox starter.
On the other side, the Red Sox had a test ahead of them against Mike Clevinger, who has been perhaps the most underrated pitcher in the game this year. The young righty has legitimate strikeout stuff, which he showed off in this game, but he also struggles with command. Both of those aspects were on full display in the first inning, as he faced five batters with two drawing walks and three going down by way of the K in a scoreless frame.
Clevinger suffered through more control issues in the second when he walked the leadoff man then hit the second batter of the inning, but he still managed a scoreless inning. That second inning also included his 200th strikeout of the season, which made Cleveland the first team in MLB history with four 200-strikeout pitchers in one rotation. That is bananas.
Anyway, the tide started changing a bit in the third as the Red Sox turned to the long ball. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get guys on base ahead of the dingers. In the third, it was Rafael Devers, who is looking to earn his way into the starting third base job in October. He’s making a strong case, and he blasted one out to right field to give Boston their first run of the game. Then in the following inning, they got a home run from Blake Swihart, who’s trying to get playing time in October wherever he can get it. This was only his second homer of the year, and it barely snuck over the wall, but it all counts the same. So, at the end of four, it was a 4-2 lead for Cleveland.
Meanwhile, out of the bullpen, Alex Cora and the Red Sox turned to some lefties to start. Robby Scott came out for the sixth and he tossed a 1-2-3 inning. After allowing a single to start the seventh, Scott was lifted in favor of Brian Johnson. The latter did issue a pair of two-out walks to load the bases, but he escaped damage and the Sox still trailed by two.
So, the Red Sox needed some offense against a tough Indians bullpen, but they came through. Mitch Moreland got things started with a weird, check-swing single, and then after a couple of quick outs Jackie Bradley Jr. came through with a huge double to put a pair in scoring position for Andrew Benintendi. The lefty was going up against a very tough southpaw in Brad Hand, but he fought off a slider and hit a little looper into left field, and it was enough to tie the game. Benintendi was thrown out trying to stretch it to a double to end the inning, but the damage was done.
From here, we fast-forward all the way to the bottom of the tenth. Johnson was still in the game and putting up zeros, but he started this inning with back-to-back walks, and Joe Kelly came on to try and get out of the jam and extend the game. He was, somewhat surprisingly, able to do just that with an impressive showing in which he recorded three straight outs.
After the Red Sox went down quietly in the top of the eleventh, Drew Pomeranz got the bottom half. He’d quickly allow the first two runners to reach on back-to-back singles — one of which may have been an out with a better throw from Devers — and the Red Sox were in trouble. Cleveland would pull off a double steal, leading to an intentional walk to Lindor, and the bases were loaded with nobody out. Michael Brantley had a chance to win it, and he did just that with a walk-off single to end the game. Not a great showing for Pomeranz, to say the least.
So, the Red Sox and the Indians will play a rubber match on Sunday night to decide this series and the season series. Hector Velazquez will take on Adam Plutko at 7:10 PM ET. Feel the excitement!