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Red Sox 5, Rays 4: Another clutch Vázquez dinger

And Chris Sale had a weird, but good start.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox, for a second game at least, have carried over some momentum. One of the overarching themes of this season for Boston has been an inability to do just that, seemingly taking a step back any and every time things start to trend upwards. They broke that streak on Tuesday. After a big win on Monday to kick off a hyped up, uber-important two-week stretch they came out and got another victory in the second game of the three-game set in Tampa. This one wasn’t as emphatic of a win as Monday’s, but they jumped out to an early lead again. Chris Sale wasn’t as efficient as you’d like and had a couple bouts of command issues, but overall he had a strong six-inning start. Christian Vázquez was the star of the offense, blasting the key solo home run to break a tie and go on to serve as the winning run. Things got way too close in the ninth inning and these bullpen problems aren’t going away, but this one at least ended in the win column.

After Monday’s big win to start this series in Tampa, the Red Sox had a chance to clinch a series victory with another win on Tuesday. They had their ace on the mound, too, with Chris Sale fresh off one of his most impressive and most vintage looking outing of the year. All of the signs were looking good, and most importantly the offense got off to the kind of start that made it look like maybe, just maybe, the Red Sox were finally going to be able to carry some momentum over from a previous game.

The offense was going up against Yonny Chirinos, who has been a little up-and-down this year and has the potential to be spectacular or mediocre on any given night. In the first inning, it looked like it was going to be under the latter category. The Red Sox got off to a hot start there on a rally that began with a Rafael Devers single. A couple of batters later, he would move on over to third on a base hit from J.D. Martinez. Taking the extra base turned out to be important because during the next at bat Chirinos threw a ball in the dirt that squeaked through the catchers’ legs. Devers was able to come in to score, and the Red Sox had a 1-0 lead. Andrew Benintendi kept it going with a base hit, too, and it was 2-0 before Sale even had to take the mound.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Boston’s ace got off to a scorching start in this game, too. This wasn’t one of the nights where the offense gave early offense only to see it erased in the blink of an eye. Instead, Sale picked up where he left off in his last start. The lefty retired the first eight batters he faced on just 34 pitches, and it appeared he’d roll for a while.

At the ninth batter, things started to turn a bit. That ninth batter was Mike Zunino, who fell down 0-2 but then worked an impressive at bat to get back into it. Eventually, he was walked on nine pitches to extend the inning. The score was still 2-0 at this point, but that changed on one swing of the bat. The inexplicably hot Travis d’Arnaud was at the plate here and he got a slider that stayed up in the zone. He sent it right down the left field line and it stayed fair for a two-run shot. Just like that, after Sale was a strike away from a quick 1-2-3 inning, it was tied at two. It would stay that way through the end of the inning, too.

The rest of the night for Sale sort of followed along those same lines, just without the homers. It was a strange start for the ace, as he struck out eleven batters so you can’t really say he struggled to put batters away. And yet....he struggled to put batters away. He eventually got the strikeouts, but the Rays were able to foul off pitches and take some balls, forcing the southpaw into a lot of pitchers.

That said, the damage never really came. Sale did allow a double and a walk in the fourth, but he got Willy Adames to strike out swinging to end that inning with no runs crossing the plate. In the fifth, he allowed a double to Tommy Pham to end a 12-pitch at bat, but that was all. Still, at the end of that inning he was over 100 pitches and it seemed his night might be done. Instead, he came back out for the sixth and after allowing a walk and getting two outs he was at 114 pitches. Alex Cora came to get his ace, but Sale convinced him to let him continue. Listening to the pitcher paid off this time as Sale took two pitches to get a line out and end the inning, and the outing.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox offense had not done much of anything since that two-run first. That appeared to possibly be changing in the top half of the sixth when they got two on with two outs. Tampa Bay had taken Chirinos out for left-hander Christian Poche in this inning, but Cora allowed Brock Holt to hit for himself. It didn’t work out, and the runners were left on base.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In the top of the seventh, Cora made a decision that worked out much better. Poche was still in the game to start this inning, and Mitch Moreland was due to lead things off. Instead, Cora brought Christian Vázquez in to pinch hit. He did the damn thing. Poche threw an 0-1 fastball down in the zone and Vázquez went down and got it, blasting it out to left field for a solo shot to give Boston the 3-2 lead.

Now, it was up to the Red Sox bullpen to try and hold this lead for three innings. Matt Barnes got the call first in the bottom half of the seventh. He did the job, getting an easy 1-2-3 inning on just nine pitches.

After the Red Sox added two more in the eighth on an RBI ground out and an RBI hit-by-pitch, it was a three-run lead with six more outs for the bullpen to record. Brandon Workman got the call for the bottom half of the eighth, and he had a 12-pitch 1-2-3 inning. He then came back out for the ninth, but that one started off with a single that would have been at least a double had anyone other than Mookie Betts been out in right field to not cut it off.

After getting two outs, Workman walked Adames and Ji-Man Choi came to the plate representing the tying run. He did not tie the game, but he did bring home a run with a base hit through the middle. Workman then issued a walk to d’Arnaud, and suddenly Marcus Walden had to come in with two outs and the bases loaded in a two-run game. The righty immediately threw four straight balls to bring in another run and suddenly this was a one-run game. Finally, mercifully, he got a ground out to end this game and finish off the victory.

The Red Sox have a chance for their second sweep on the road against the Rays this year if they can get a win on Wednesday. That game will pit David Price against Charlie Morton, and first pitch will come early at 12:05 PM ET.


Courtesy of Fangraphs