The Red Sox needed something close to a perfect game on Monday as they started their most important stretch of the season, and that’s exactly what they got. Pretty much anything you’d look for from the Red Sox in this game, they gave you. Eduardo Rodriguez was phenomenal in this game, working around four walks thanks to a ton of good pitches on the edges of the zone that led to almost exclusively weak contact. Offensively, the team exploded for seven runs and three homers in the third inning. Andrew Benintendi had one of the homers and had a strong three-hit game overall. The big blemish of the night was Nathan Eovaldi, who struggled and showed obvious rust in his first appearance off the injured list. There’s still work to do and we know by now we can’t judge this Red Sox team off any one game, but this was a much-needed victory.
The talk around the Red Sox on Monday was clear and stark, both among fans and among the players and coaches actually on the roster. Everybody had the same thought: This week is big and will determine the direction in which the team goes at the trade deadline. Monday was the first of fourteen straight games against either the Rays or Yankees, a bizarre stretch of the schedule that pits the top three teams in the division, and three teams fighting for playoff spots (well, the Yankees aren’t really fighting but you get the point) against each other. Given how the Red Sox were playing heading into this series, having just lost two of three to the lowly Orioles and just generally not being able to hold any momentum, the pessimism around this stretch was as understandable as it was sad.
Well, they started things off in Tampa Bay with a bang. The Red Sox offense was coming off a game on Sunday in which they struggled to get anything at all going against Asher Wojciechowski, a journeyman with an ERA over six heading into the game. On Monday, they were facing Jalen Beeks, a former prospect from the organization that has been good in a three- or four-inning role for Tampa Bay this year.
Early on in the game, it seemed as though Boston was carrying over the offense from Sunday into this game as well. Like I said, the pessimism among fans heading into this week was hard to argue with. They went down in order with three ground outs in the first before managing just a single in the second.
In the third inning, though, Beeks had to face the lineup for a second time. The lefty is solid, but he’s much, much better suited to only face a lineup once. That rally started with a one-out single from Marco Hernandez, the last hitter to face Beeks for a first time. With that, the floodgates had opened. Mookie Betts drew a walk to put two batters on base, then Rafael Devers drove them both home with a double out to left-center field.
It was after Xander Bogaerts drew a walk to put two runners on again that the real fun began, though. J.D. Martinez came up to the plate in this spot in the midst of his worst slump as a member of the Red Sox. The slugger just hasn’t been himself, and even earlier in this game had an ugly at bat that ended with a strikeout. Here, however, he got a fastball up in the zone on the outer half of the plate and he drove it way out to center field. It was the kind of big swing we’d been looking for from Martinez, and it gave Boston a 5-0 lead. A couple batters later, Andrew Benintendi came up with two outs and he drove a breaking ball that broke right into his sweet spot out to right field for a homer of his own. Sam Travis finished off the party with a solo shot of his own right after Benintendi’s. The Red Sox started the third having gone down quickly in the first two innings, but they left it with a 7-0 lead.
That inning was really the crux of the Red Sox offense for the night. Sometimes it can be frustrating when such a high percentage of the offense comes in one inning, but when said inning results in seven runs nobody really complains. They did add one more in the fourth when Bogaerts brought home a run with a double.
On the other side of the ball, Eduardo Rodriguez gave the Red Sox another big outing on the mound. It’s a little hard as a pitcher to stand out when your offense explodes and puts the game away in a single inning — not that you’ll compain! — but Rodriguez was absolutely stellar. The lefty has been really good for about a month now, and most importantly he’s been showing an ability to consistently get deep into games for about the first time in his career. That trend continued on Monday.
Really, there weren’t a whole lot of threats against Rodriguez at all throughout this game. He did walk the first batter he faced to start off this game in the first, but Marco Hernandez helped him out with a tremendous 4-3 double play behind the second base bag and the Red Sox starter rolled from there.
After that double play, he retired the next batter for a three-batter frame before getting an easy 1-2-3 second. Rodriguez then came back in the third and allowed only a two-out single before issuing just a walk in the next three innings. He came back out for a seventh inning and allowed his second single of the game. That was all, though, and he made it through the frame with his shutout still in hand as the game would be transferred over to the bullpen for the eighth and ninth.
The control for Rodriguez wasn’t perfect in this game as he issued four walks, but the southpaw pitched into the seventh for the third straight start and allowed only two hits. That’s exactly what the doctors ordered, as the kids said at some point in the relatively distant past.
For the eighth inning, we got to see Nathan Eovaldi coming in out of the bullpen for the first time. He had been activated on Saturday but hadn’t gotten the chance to pitch yet, so Alex Cora wanted to get him in today regardless of score. Things did not get off to a great start for Eovaldi
last year’s World Series MVP (why did I think he was the MVP???). The first batter he faced reached on a weak infield single to third base before moving to second on a wild pitch and scoring on a double. Things didn’t get much better from there, as he’d throw another wild pitch before getting his first out on a strikeout. After that, though, Eovaldi gave up another double and a single, giving Tampa three runs and forcing Matt Barnes up in the bullpen. After a second strikeout, he gave up another single to end his outing. In all, he recorded just the two outs and allowed five hits.
So, Barnes had to come in with two runners on in a five-run game, trying to clean up the developing mess. Fortunately, he did the job in a long at bat, finally getting an inning-ending ground out on the eighth pitch against Willy Adames to keep the score at 8-3.
For the top of the ninth, the Rays inexplicably used a position player after rallying for three in the previous inning. The Red Sox only got one run off Michael Brosseau, though. In the now 9-3 game, Josh Taylor came on to pitch for Boston. The southpaw walked the first batter he faced in the inning before allowing a single and a double. That pushed one run across and put a pair in scoring position with just one out in a 9-4 game. Taylor got a line out after that before ending the game with a strikeout. It got a little more interesting than you’d like, but a big win is a big win.
The Red Sox and Rays will continue their series on Tuesday as Boston looks to clinch the series victory. They’ll have Chris Sale on the mound to take on Yonny Chirinos. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 PM ET.