A win? On the west coast? In Oakland? As Kevin Garnett once told us, anything is possible. Things did not look good in the early going for the Red Sox on Thursday as the offense was anemic again and Nathan Eovaldi worked out of trouble but was struggling with command. At one point, the lineup had worked its scoreless streak up to 22 consecutive innings and when Oakland took a 3-0 lead it seemed legitimate insurmountable. Then, on his birthday, Blake Swihart got his team off the schneid with a solo home run, and everything was roses from there. The offense got going, the bullpen was great yet again and the Red Sox picked up their second win of the year.
There’s just something about Oakland. The Red Sox offense, the best in all of baseball last year, was no-hit there in 2018 and this year they’ve just been totally shut down. After being shut down in the first two games, they went up against a familiar face in Marco Estrada to try and break out of their funk. Estrada is a strange pitcher, lacking anything close to overpowering stuff but possessing a great changeup that gives him reverse splits and a fly ball tendency that makes it hard to drop in hits unless you’re putting them over the fence. On Wednesday, the Red Sox weren’t really putting many over the fence, and it led to a predictably tough night.
Really, they picked up where they left off in the first two games of this series, at least over the first half of the game. They were, to their credit, a bit more aggressive early in counts than they seemed to be earlier in the series, but the results were no better. Over the first four innings they went down in order in three of them. The one time they didn’t was in the second when they got a leadoff single from J.D. Martinez and then Brock Holt was hit by a pitch with two outs. They were stranded, and the team worked their way up to 22 consecutive scoreless innings in Oakland.
On the other side, Nathan Eovaldi was looking to bounce back from a horrible first outing of the year. One of the most impressive parts of his breakout 2018 campaign was his ability to pound the zone without getting crushed. His fastball command in particular was phenomenal, painting the edges with high-90s velocity. That hasn’t been the case so far this year. Just like in his first start, the righty struggled to locate that heat. Things certainly weren’t as bad as they were in Seattle, but Eovaldi did have to work his way out of some trouble in multiple spots. It was a step forward, but not nearly where he wants to end up.
The first inning was a point where he had to work his way out of a jam. Eovaldi looked strong in his first at bat and the command was good, but then in the second at bat he hit Matt Chapman with a pitch and things seemed to spiral from there. The righty came back and walked Stephen Piscotty immediately after that to put two on with one out for Khris Davis. The slugger got to a three-ball count, but fortunately for the Red Sox the at bat ended with an inning-ending double play.
The second would be even worse as the time between innings didn’t help Eovaldi find his location. Kendrys Morales started the rally by poking a single against the shift. After another single and a walk, the bases were loaded before any outs were recorded. Series standout Ramón Laureano struck out to ease a bit of the pressure, but then Nick Hundley ripped a line drive to the left side. Rafael Devers did get a glove on it, but the ball was hit so hard to took the glove right off the third baseman’s hand. It was a bizarre play and Devers almost got Morales at the plate, but Blake Swihart couldn’t hold on to the bounced throw. He should have had it, and may have gotten the out if he did though it would have been close. So, Oakland had a 1-0 lead and the bases were still loaded, but they’d squander the chance to add any more to their lead.
Eovaldi came back allowing just a walk in the third before getting into more trouble in the fourth. Once again it was the control starting the issues when Marcus Semien drew a leadoff walk. That brought Laureano up again, and this time he came through. On a 1-0 pitch Eovaldi threw a slow breaking ball that broke right into the heart of the zone. I wouldn’t recommend doing that again, as the A’s center fielder launched one way out to center field for a two-run shot, and just like that it was a 3-0 lead.
So, now we get back to that anemic Red Sox offense whose performance in this park made that 3-0 lead seem insurmountable. They needed some sort of momentum, but in the fifth they started the inning with a pop up and a routine ground out. Then, Swihart came to the plate and the birthday boy made his mark. With two outs, the Red Sox catcher celebrating his 27th year on this planet hit his first homer of the year. The team’s scoreless streak was snapped, pandemonium was in the streets and Boston was within two.
After Eovaldi had his best inning of the night in the fifth, the Sox offense got back to work in the sixth. The top of the order was coming up here, and Mookie Betts started things off with a walk. After Andrew Benintendi struck out, Rafael Devers worked a tough at bat that got to nine pitches. On that ninth pitch, it seemed he grounded into an inning-ending double play but Jurickson Profar just totally lost a grip on the ball. His ball sailed way away from Semien’s glove, Betts advanced to third and the inning was still going. After J.D. Martinez drew a walk, Mitch Moreland was coming up with the bases loaded and the A’s turned to left-handed specialist Ryan Buchter. It wouldn’t matter, because Moreland had another clutch hit. The first baseman ripped a double down towards the right field corner, scoring two and tying this game up. They’d strand two more in scoring position, but the offense was finally showing some life.
With the bullpen facing their most pressure-filled situation in some time, Colten Brewer got the first call in the sixth. He looked good yet again, allowing one batter to reach on a strikeout that got past Swihart and to the back stop. After the Red Sox failed to score in the seventh thanks to more great defense from Laureano and Chapman, Brewer came back out for the bottom half. He’d record two outs before issuing a walk, and that was the end of his night. Davis was coming up for the A’s and Alex Cora showed he wasn’t messing around by bringing on Matt Barnes. The righty did the job, striking out Oakland’s best hitter to end the inning.
Barnes would come back out for the eighth inning, and after two quick outs things started to get scary. Semien came through with a two-out knock into center field. In the next at bat he stole second base, and a bad throw from Swihart (along with a bobble in center field by Jackie Bradley Jr.) moved him to third. Laureano was up now, and it seemed he had knocked in the go-ahead run with an infield single. Brock Holt made a great play and throw in the hole, but the runner was ruled safe. That call was overturned after review, however, and the game remained tied.
In the ninth, the Red Sox got a leadoff runner when Eduardo Núñez singled, but he was quickly taken off the bases on a truly bizarre stolen base attempt in which he attempted to back track to first base halfway through. It...did not work. With two outs, though, they got something going again with back-to-back singles from Swihart and Bradley Jr. A passed ball put both runners in scoring position, and Betts came through with a double that ricocheted off the third base bag to knock in two and give Boston a 5-3 lead. Benintendi kept it going with a triple, and the Red Sox had a three-run lead.
That just left the bottom of the ninth for Ryan Brasier, who was looking to record his first career save. The righty hit a batter to lead off the inning but then set down the next three batters he faced and Boston grabbed their second win of 2019.
So, the Red Sox will have a chance to salvage a split in this series with a win on Thursday. It’ll be an afternoon, getaway day in Oakland for the series finale, with first pitch coming at 3:37 PM ET. Boston will send Eduardo Rodriguez out to the mound to take on Brett Anderson.