The Red Sox had a big test for themselves coming out of the All-Star break, facing off against the best team in baseball. They looked good against the Dodgers in the first game of this three-game set, picking up an easy win with an hour-long rain delay mixed in. The offense was good, but Eduardo Rodriguez was the story. Boston’s lefty looked a little shaky early, but settled in quickly and ended up tossing seven strong innings with ten strikeouts. That’s a huge start against a good team that will hopefully spark a big run. The offense, meanwhile, was led by the same guys who led the way in the first half. Rafael Devers, Christian Vázquez and Xander Bogaerts all went deep on Friday night.
If you like baseball in the year 2019, this was the game for you. The Red Sox and Dodgers played a very Three True Outcomes game, at least early on against the starters, with home runs, strikeouts and walks taking up the bulk of the action. The Red Sox offense did get a couple of big swings, but the story was Rodriguez for the first half of this game.
The Red Sox lefty is one of the most important players on the roster for the second half. Boston needs its entire rotation to pitch better, and for Rodriguez that means consistency against good and bad opponents. This was clearly a good opponent, as the Dodgers are one of the most loaded lineups in baseball. The Red Sox lefty was a big shaky in the first and didn’t have all of his stuff working, specifically the changeup, but he picked it up as the game went on and did well against this very talented group.
As I said, though, that first inning was shaky. It didn’t look like it was going to be that way, however, as he threw four fastballs to start the game and got two quick outs. It looked like he could breeze through the inning, but then issued a walk to David Freese. That was understandable given how good Freese is against lefties, but he came back with a long at bat against NL MVP favorite Cody Bellinger. That also ended with a free pass, and suddenly Rodriguez was watching his pitch count climb with two runners on for Max Muncy. This was another long at bat, but it ended with the Dodgers first baseman swinging through a high fastball to end the inning.
The second started with another strikeout, but then Alex Verdugo came to the plate. Boston was winning 1-0 at this point, but the Dodgers rookie had his eyes on changing that. He’s had an outstanding season, and that continued here when Rodriguez threw a cutter that broke right into Verdugo’s sweet spot. He was a little off-balance on his swing, but it didn’t matter as he caught enough to send it over the wall in the right field corner for a solo home run. That tied the game at ones.
Fortunately, Rodriguez settled down in a big way after that homer. The lefty got two straight outs after the long ball, including one strikeout. He then had 1-2-3 innings in both the third and fourth with three strikeouts between the two frames. His consecutive out streak ended at eight when Verdugo came through with a single to lead off the fifth, but Rodriguez left him there with three straight outs after that.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox offense was looking to stay hot after a nice end to the first half, but they were going up against Kenta Maeda. The Dodgers righty is a very solid pitcher with a lot of movement who can be even more difficult to hit when you lack experience against him. Boston did look a little lost at times, but they did make a couple pieces of good contact.
The first came in just their second at bat when Rafael Devers came to the plate. On the second pitch of the plate appearance, the All-Star snub tried to drop a bunt against the shift to get on first. He fouled it off. That turned out to be a good thing, because he then sent the very next pitch out into the Monster Seats for a solo shot that gave Boston their aforementioned 1-0 lead.
As we know, Rodriguez allowed the Dodgers to tie the game quickly after that, but the Red Sox offense didn’t waste time in getting their lead back. Once again it was the second at bat of the inning, and once again it was a first-half breakout with a case for an All-Star bid. I speak of Christian Vázquez, who worked a nice at bat fouling off a few two-strike pitches. Eventually, on the ninth pitch, he got a ball up and in the zone and he crushed it out over the wall in left field for his team’s second solo shot. Just like that, it was a 2-1 lead.
That would be the score as we headed into the sixth, with Rodriguez still in the game. He was cruising at this point and he continued to do so with two quick outs. Bellinger broke the streak this time around, though, ripping a base hit to keep the inning going for Muncy. He would make some solid contact as well and sent a ball out to left-center field that looked destined for the wall. If it got off the Monster, it was going to score Bellinger. Instead, Jackie Bradley Jr. made one of those little leaping grabs against the wall we’ve seen so many times over the years, saving the run and keeping the lead in tact.
After the scare in the top of the sixth, the Red Sox decided to add a bit of insurance in the bottom of the inning. It started with Mookie Betts leading off the frame and ripping a double out to center field. That brought Devers back to the plate with a runner in scoring position, which usually means good things. That was the case here as the third baseman put a double out to left field to get a run home and make it 3-1. Boston had a chance to do more with the runner at second and nobody out, but they would fail to get any more across the plate.
Rodriguez then came back out for the seventh and got into some more trouble. It was A.J. Pollock leading off the inning and he would kick things off with a base hit. After getting Verdugo for a strikeout, Kiké Hernández hit a floater out to left field. Andrew Benintendi came up just short on a diving attempt, putting two men on with one out and Rodriguez at 99 pitches. The rain started coming down fairly heavily at this point, but the southpaw pitched through it and got a big strikeout against Austin Barnes. That left things up to Corey Seager, who hit a routine ground ball to end the rally and keep Boston up by two.
We headed into the bottom of the seventh, and inning that took a very long time. That was because of weather, of course. Before that, Boston got some good luck with back-to-back infield singles before Brock Holt drove in another run with a double. That is when the hour-long rain delay began, and 60 minutes later Betts drove in another run with a sacrifice fly. After that, the Dodgers would walk Devers, and Xander Bogaerts made them pay. The shortstop hit one just over the Monster — he slid into second base with what he thought was a double — and just like that it was an 8-1 lead for Boston heading into the eighth.
Now, it was just up to the Red Sox bullpen to not totally implode. Josh Taylor came on for the eighth, and the lefty tossed a 1-2-3 inning. In the ninth, it was Hector Velázquez. He would toss a perfect inning to close this one out.
The Red Sox and Dodgers continue this series on Saturday with Chris Sale taking the mound for Boston while L.A. counters with Ross Stripling. First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 PM ET.