Expectations are high for the Red Sox in 2019, as well they should be. This is a team that was historically great a year ago and is bringing back largely the same group of players. One game is not going to change expectations for anyone, but it will snap us back into the reality of baseball. Anything can happen on any given day, and the Red Sox got a reminder that this isn’t all good. Chris Sale was on the mound, which is almost always a good thing, but not today. He had no command and the Mariners caught on fairly quickly, blasting three homers and seven runs off Boston’s ace. The Red Sox lineup had an opportunity to put a crooked number on the board in the first couple innings, too, but they managed just one run in each. Nothing looked good for the Sox in this one, but the good thing about baseball is they come right back out and play again tomorrow.
The Red Sox seemed like they wanted to send a message with their offense out of the gate, and they did that. Everything appeared to be just peachy early, though we know that didn’t quite work out in the end. Still, in the first couple of innings the Red Sox were being aggressive both at the plate (four of the first six batters swung at the first pitch) and on the bases. That resulted in only two runs in the first two frames — which doesn’t sound terrible, but it could have been more — but they were pushing the Mariners early and often.
In that first inning, Andrew Benintendi swung at the first pitch any Red Sox batter would see in 2019, though he didn’t do much with it. Still, it set a bit of a tone. After that first out, the Red Sox started poking hits all over the place with three straight singles from Mookie Betts, Rafael Devers and J.D. Martinez. That resulted in one run and they still had two on and just one out. They couldn’t do anything else with it, though, and settled for a 1-0 lead after one.
The second went similarly, with an assist from Seattle’s defense. Eduardo Núñez started off by reaching on an error and then was moved up to second on a stolen base. The Red Sox turned on the aggression again after that, executing a double steal to put two runners in scoring position with nobody out. They did get a run out of it on a sacrifice fly, which was helped by more aggressive running from Núñez, but they got nothing more.
So, Boston had a two-run lead after an inning-and-a-half, and Sale looked like he was headed for a big game after his first inning. There, the only runner he allowed came on a Rafael Devers error — in which he made another avoidable mistake by going for a backhand when he had plenty of time to get in front of the ball — and he struck out the other three batters he faced.
That success would not last and the day ended as one of the worst Sale days since he came to the Red Sox. After throwing 24 pitches in that first inning, the efficiency never came and suddenly the Mariners started making consistent and hard contact off the Red Sox ace. After a quick first out in the second, Seattle got on the board with an emphatic statement. With Tim Beckham at the plate, Sale left a fastball up in the zone over the heart of the plate, and he didn’t have his upper-90s velocity in this one. That made it too easy to hit, and Beckham did just that with a massive homer out to left field. After that, Sale would load the bases on a walk, a single and a hit batter before allowing two more to score on a double to the right-field corner. That gave the Mariners the lead, but fortunately a nifty tag at the plate from Christian Vázquez ended the inning and prevented a third run from scoring.
It wasn’t just one bad inning from Sale, though. He headed into the third with his team still trailing 3-2, but that deficit would grow quickly. Edwin Encarnación, who Red Sox fans will remember from his days in Toronto, smoked a solo homer to start that inning. Three batters later, Beckham came up to hit his second homer of the afternoon and that was quickly followed by a triple from Mallex Smith. By the time the dust had settled, Seattle plated seven runs and Sale wasn’t to return for the fourth.
Three innings, seven runs, three homers. That’s not the day the Red Sox or Sale were looking for. It’s clearly not time to panic, particularly considering the southpaw barely pitched in spring training, but he didn’t look great. His velocity being a bit down (he was mostly around 91-94) was likely by design, but Sale also couldn’t command anything but his changeup. It’ll be a long four days for him before he can get back out there for another chance.
By the time Sale left the game, things were basically over. Him pitching only three innings obviously left a lot of innings left to pitch for the Red Sox bullpen, which you may have heard doesn’t look so good on paper. They first turned to Hector Velázquez, who is here mostly for this kind of long relief, mop-up role. The righty ended up making it through 2 1⁄3 innings, but he left the bases loaded for Heath Hembree.
Things did not go swimmingly for Hembree, either. He walked the first batter he faced to allow a run to score, but looked like he’d get out of it after that. He was betrayed by his defense, though, with Núñez making an error on what should have been the third out. That would be it, but the Mariners had ten on the board and the game was well out of hand.
Tyler Thornburg got the call after Hembree, and he got off to a solid start with two quick outs. It went downhill very quickly after that with a double and yet another home run to give Seattle 12 runs on the day.
Finally, Brian Johnson came on for the final inning of work. The lefty did allow a walk and that runner made it to second, but no runs crossed the plate.
Offensively, Boston’s lineup went quiet after those solid first two frames. They gave themselves a chance to get the game back in the third, when they were only down 3-2 at that point. In that inning, the Sox got two on with two outs after a Xander Bogaerts double and a Núñez walk, but they were stranded there. They’d have another chance with two on in the fifth, this time trailing by five, but again stranded them.
The Red Sox did get a couple of runs in the sixth thanks to a pair of doubles from Núñez and Vázquez as well as a base hit from Benintendi. The game was already out of reach at that point, though, and even after the runs it was still a four-run deficit. That was all they would get for the game before it mercifully ended.
The Red Sox will look to take this bad taste out of their mouth on Friday in the second game of this four-game set. They’ll have Nathan Eovaldi on the mound to take on Seattle and former NPB star Yusei Kikuchi. First pitch is scheduled for 10:10 PM ET.