The Red Sox came into Friday’s game playing just about the worst baseball imaginable, traveling to take on the sport’s hottest team on the road. What could possibly go wrong?! Well, actually, things went pretty well! The offense was totally lifeless for the first four innings, but after that they turned things on thanks to a big double from Rafael Devers that got things going as well as home runs from Christian Vázquez, Mookie Betts and Mitch Moreland. Eduardo Rodriguez was also strong in this game, recovering from a long first inning for a solid outing that was better than his line looked. He was undone by some bad luck on balls in play as well as a brutally timed error from Devers. Things still aren’t perfect, but the Red Sox took one on the road from the team with the best record in baseball. That’ll do.
Over this latest stretch of the season, as the rotation has slowly but surely started to figure things out, the bottom has totally fallen out for the lineup. They have looked totally hopeless much more often than not, with mostly top-to-bottom failure night in and night out. The hope for the optimistic among us was that the day off on Thursday would provide an opportunity for the hitters to regroup a bit and come back fresh on Friday. Things, well, they didn’t get off the best of starts.
The Rays, as they often do, went with the opener strategy in this game, handing the ball to right-handed reliever Ryne Stanek to start this game. The fireballer was not going to be able to go more than two innings at most, meaning he could max himself out. That’s not really something hitters are used to right off the bat. Fortunately, he couldn’t find the zone in the first at bat and walked Andrew Benintendi on five pitches. That brought Mookie Betts to the plate, who as we discussed Friday morning has been extremely passive this season. Well, he got a fastball middle-in on the first pitch this time around and he swung at it. That’s good! He pounded it into the ground for a 5-4-3 double play. That’s bad! Mitch Moreland then came up and also swung at the first pitch (and also a good pitch to hit) and hit a lazy fly ball to center field to end the inning in the blink of an eye.
Things didn’t get any better after that, either. Stanek would come out for one more 1-2-3 inning before giving way to Ryan Yarbrough. The southpaw picked up right where his opener left off, retiring the first six batters he faced. So, after four, the Red Sox were being no-hit and they had only sent the minimum of 12 batters to the plate.
Meanwhile, Eduardo Rodriguez got off to a start that did not really bode well for the rest of his night based off his history. Generally speaking, when he struggles with his pitch count early, things tend to snowball as the game goes on. Like Stanek, the Red Sox southpaw walked the first batter he saw, then he gave up a cheap single on a little ground ball that made it halfway up the third base line. He buckled down with two on and nobody out, though, getting a strikeout, a fly out and another strikeout to escape the inning without allowing a run.
He wouldn’t be so lucky in the next inning, though again the Rays benefited from some good fortune here. After Rodriguez got his third strikeout of the day to leadoff the second, Brandon Lowe came to the plate. Rodriguez tried to sneak a slider by him, but it hung up and stayed right down the heart of the plate a little down in the zone. Lowe was all over it and put a fly ball right over the wall in the right field corner. It was far from a blast, but it all counts the same and it gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead.
Rodriguez did get a couple outs after the home run, but more trouble awaited him in the third. Once again, it started with a bit of bad luck, too. This time it was Yandy Diaz, who hit a soft grounder towards third base. Rafael Devers came in and made a nice barehanded play and an accurate throw, but there wasn’t enough time to get Diaz. That would be costly, because a few batters later Avisail Garcia ripped a fly ball into right-center field for a triple, and all of a sudden the Rays had a 2-0 lead. This a lot of tough luck for Rodriguez, though the triple was certainly no cheapie.
So, now the Red Sox offense entered the fifth looking totally hopeless and needed some kind of spark. J.D. Martinez got them off on the right foot, drawing a leadoff walk. With one out, Devers came to the plate and broke up the no-hitter and the shutout with one swing of the bat. The young third baseman smoked a line drive out to right-center field for a one-out double, scoring Martinez (on a play on which he could have been thrown out had the ball not hit the mound). Next up was Christian Vázquez, who went and gave the Red Sox the lead when he put a middle-middle fastball over the center field wall. Just like that, it was 3-2 Red Sox on the catcher’s fourth homer of the young season.
Rodriguez got through the bottom of the fifth with a big shutdown inning, and the Red Sox got back to work in the sixth. Betts started the rally with a much-needed double, this on a grounder down the left field line. That was followed by back-to-back base hits from Moreland and Martinez, and the Red Sox had their lead extended to two.
That was all they’d get in the inning, and Rodriguez came back out for the sixth. Things took a turn for the worst pretty much immediately when Austin Meadowns knocked a base hit into center field. Fortunately, Garcia looked to hit into an easy double play to the left side, but Devers — who had made some strong defensive plays throughout this game — just let the ball slip right under his glove. The error turned a nobody on, two out situation into two on with nobody out, and as expected it was a costly mistake. Daniel Robertson came up and put a double down the left field line, and just like that the game was tied. After Rodriguez hit the next batter he saw, he got a line out and his night was over. All in all, it was a solid performance that was undone by some weak balls finding the right part of the field and one extremely costly defensive blunder.
Now, it was up to Brandon Workman, who we last saw loading the bases in New York trying to protect a two-run lead. This time, he was trying to keep the score tied with two on and one out. He did much better this time around, quickly inducing a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.
After the Red Sox went down in order in the seventh, Workman was back out for the bottom half of the inning and started things off with a leadoff walk. He came back with another big ground to induce another 6-4-3 double play. After another walk, this time they cancelled it out by catching a base stealer, and Workman was out of the inning.
In the eighth, the offense started to show some life again. It seemed it would be an uphill battle as they faced off against Diego Castillo, a young pitcher who can be one of the toughest righties in the American League to square up if he’s going well. The Red Sox had little issue, though. Betts led off the inning by punishing a middle-middle sinker over the wall for a solo homer into center field, giving the Red Sox a 4-3 lead. Then, for good measure, Moreland followed it up with a homer of his own, and the Red Sox had just six more outs to record to protect a two-run lead.
Matt Barnes got the call first with Tampa sending their 3-4-5 hitters up in the bottom half of the inning. He did what he does, which is to say dominate. He struck out two in a perfect inning, with the second strikeout coming on a pitch in the dirt that bounced back towards the mound. And that’s the story of how I learned a pitcher can throw out a strikeout victim at first base.
For the ninth, it was up to Ryan Brasier, who we last saw giving up a go-ahead grand slam to Brett Gardner in New York. Things went a little more smoothly this time around. He did hit one batter, who advanced to second on a wild pitch but was perfect other than that to close out the game. A Red Sox victory, can you believe it?!
The Red Sox will look to keep these good times rolling on Saturday with the second game of this three-game set in Tampa Bay. For this one, they’ll send the scuffling Rick Porcello to the mound to take on Charlie Morton. First pitch is scheduled for 6:10 PM ET.