The Red Sox, insofar as they need anything right now, need to get on a bit of a roll. That doesn’t mean a long win streak (though no one would complain) but rather just more consistent play. It seems like they’re alternating good and bad games right now, and while it’s not the end of the world with a 7.5-game lead on September 3, it’s not ideal either. So, on the one hand, one game won’t change that perception. On the other hand, you can’t get on that roll without the first game. They did get themselves a win on Monday thanks to a bend-but-don’t break performance from the pitching staff — particularly a bullpen that had to toss 5 2⁄3 innings in this game — as well as timely hitting led by Ian Kinsler. It wasn’t a perfect game, but on the road against a division leader in Atlanta, it was nice.
The Red Sox came into this game hoping Nathan Eovaldi was going to be able to figure some things out and get him on a bit of a roll heading into the final stretch of the year and hopefully well beyond that. If you just looked at the run totals, he certainly succeeded. Unfortunately, there is more to pitching than not allowing runs (sort of) and he didn’t pass the other tests. Most importantly is that he did not succeed in getting deep into a game, once again making the Red Sox bullpen work some overtime.
The first inning was immediate trouble for the righty when he didn’t give himself a chance to breath before getting into a jam. He did strike out Ronald Acuña to lead off the game, but Eovaldi immediately walked the next two batters he faced. After recording his second strikeout, he walked Johan Camargo and found himself in a pickle with the bases loaded. Fortunately, he got a ground ball out to shortstop to end the inning and keep the game tied at zeros.
Over the next couple of innings Eovaldi settled down a bit and got a 1-2-3 second before allowing just a single in the third. In the fourth, he started to lose it again and Alex Cora wasn’t going to let it happen too long. Eovaldi walked the first batter he faced — his fourth of the game already — before allowing a single to the next batter he faced. After giving up a hard-hit flyout for the first out of the inning, Cora pulled the plug and brought on Brandon Workman. The righty did walk the first batter he faced to load the bases, but Braves pitcher Touki Toussaint hit a grounder that resulted in an out at the plate before getting a pop up to escape the trouble. So, the Red Sox walked a tightrope through four but kept the Braves off the scoreboard.
While this was going on, Boston’s offense was looking for a better and more consistent showing than what they provided in Chicago, particularly in the final game. Early on it didn’t look great when Mookie Betts led off with a strikeout and J.D. Martinez grounded into an inning-ending double play to finish off the inning in three batters. The Red Sox would then manage just a walk in the second before going down in order in the third and fourth.
In the fifth, after Workman got out of that tough jam, the hitters finally started to get going against Toussaint. After a strikeout to start the inning, Eduardo Núñez got the rally going — as he has so often in recent games — with a double. Ian Kinsler jumped on the first pitch he saw in the next at bat for a double of his own before Christian Vazquez contributed a third consecutive double. Just like that, it was a 2-0 lead for the Red Sox. A couple batters later Betts would come up with Vazquez in scoring position and two outs on the board, and the star outfielder ripped a single to plate Boston’s third run of the game, and they’d leave the inning with the 3-0 lead, though they also left Betts at third.
In the bottom half of the fifth Steven Wright came on for his first appearance in the bigs since June, and he hit the first batter he’d see. The knuckleballer also gave up a single in that inning, but three ground balls were enough to maintain his team’s shutout against the Braves.
After the Red Sox managed just a single in the sixth, Joe Kelly got the call for the home half. It was a bit puzzling to see Wright limited to just one inning, particularly given the recent workload for this bullpen, but the combination of expanded rosters providing extra help and a presumed desire to ease Wright back into action resulted in a switch being made. It didn’t get off to a great start when Ozzie Albies led off the inning and got a fastball middle-middle. The Braves second baseman is not a large man, but he’s got some pop and he blasted the mistake over the wall in right field to cut Boston’s lead to two. Kelly did come back after that and get three straight outs.
The Red Sox went down in order again in the seventh, and Ryan Brasier came on for the bottom half of the inning. The righty got himself in a bit of trouble against the middle of Atlanta’s lineup by allowing singles to two of the first three batters he faced. A slow infield single loaded the bases and Kurt Suzuki capitalized with a deep fly ball to score one run and cut Atlanta’s deficit to one. That sac fly ended the day for Brasier, and Heath Hembree came in to try and get out of the jam with runners on the corners and two outs. He got Albies to strike out and the Red Sox left the seventh with a one run lead.
Fortunately, Boston’s bats came alive again in the eighth and got some key insurance. A single, a walk and an error loaded the bases with two outs, leaving it all up to Kinsler. The veteran already had an RBI in the game but he added to that total with a big base hit into right field, scoring two more and extending the lead to three.
With the newfound lead, Matt Barnes came on for the bottom half of the eighth. He allowed the first batter to reach on a weak infield single, and the runner would get to third on a stolen base and a ground out, but Barnes kept the run off the board facing four batters.
The Red Sox added three more thanks to a big two-run double from Xander Bogaerts and a sacrifice fly by Núñez, and suddenly it was a six-run lead in the bottom of the ninth. Despite the large lead, Craig Kimbrel still came on to get the work in. He’d walk one but shut the door besides that and the Red Sox went home with a win.
So, the Sox will look to build off this win and clinch a victory in this Braves series on Tuesday with the only night game in this three-game set. Boston will send Rick Porcello to the mound to take on Sean Newcomb, and first pitch will be at 7:35 PM ET.
In divisional news, the Yankees are in Oakland and just got started at 4:00 ET. As of this writing that game is tied at three in the top of the second. Boston has an eight-game lead at this very moment but that will shift a half-game depending on the result of that game out west.