The Red Sox came into this weekend looking to play spoiler in Philadelphia, with the Phillies clinging to hope in the NL Wildcard race. Mission accomplished. After winning a pitchers’ duel on Saturday, the Red Sox got another strong start on Sunday as well as a big day at the plate from their catcher. Christian Vázquez hit two homers, including his first career grand slam, and knocked in five. Meanwhile, Rick Porcello allowed just two runs in five innings of work. The season is over, but wins are still fun.
The Red Sox were able to take the first game of this quick, two-game set in Philadelphia thanks mostly to great pitching. The bullpen did their job in the 2 1⁄3 innings they tossed, but Eduardo Rodriguez was the star performer. That wasn’t really a surprise, of course, since the lefty has been that guy for basically the entire season and especially in the second half. This was a particularly special start, but him pitching well in general is the expectation at this point.
For Sunday’s finale, the expectation was that a win would come behind the offense. It wasn’t just that Rick Porcello was getting the start for Boston, though that was a big part of it. The righty has obviously been a disaster for most of the year, showing flashes here and there but for the most part disappointing thanks to command that is just been consistently inconsistent. Throw in an outfield alignment (left to right) of Sam Travis, Andrew Benintendi and J.D. Martinez along with a more flyball-heavy Porcello than we’ve ever seen, and there was potential for disaster against a talented Phillies lineup.
You know that saying about predicting baseball, though. Porcello certainly wasn’t perfect in this game, getting away with some not-so-perfect pitches and working his way out of trouble here and there, but all things considered this was a very good day for the righty. It’s too late for him to really enhance his value by a significant margin for this upcoming offseason in free agency, but a strong start to the finish can at least offer a glimmer of hope for potential suitors.
The first inning is so often the key for major-league pitchers, and it felt particularly important here for a struggling pitcher against a powerful top of the order. Porcello got through this first unscathed, allowing a leadoff single but only facing three batters thanks to a double play and a strikeout.
He did make one mistake in the second, with his team up 1-0 at this point. We’ll get to that score in a minute, but Porcello wouldn’t be able to maintain this lead for very long. Rhys Hoskins led things off for the Phillies in the bottom of the second and Porcello tried to get a 1-2 fastball by him. He did get the ball up like he wanted, but he doesn’t have enough velocity to sit at the top of the zone. Hoskins was all over it and crushed a solo homer out to left field to tie the game at one.
Given what we’ve seen from Porcello this year, it was only natural to think that was going to be the start of an explosion for the Phillies. Instead, the Red Sox righty settled right down and didn’t let that homer start a run. He would come back and retire the next three batters he faced to end the second and came back out for a 1-2-3 third.
In the fourth, Porcello would allow a single and nothing more in an inning that saw both Bryce Harper and Gabe Kapler get ejected from the action for arguing balls and strikes. The fifth, however, would turn to more trouble for Porcello. After a quick first out, he issued his first walk of the afternoon before coming back with a strikeout. He was one out away from ending another relatively easy inning, but instead gave up two straight base hits to allow Philly to get another run on the board.
On the other side, the Red Sox offense had a chance to really get going again in this game after Aaron Nola gave them fits on Saturday. They were going up against a lefty in Jason Vargas, and while they were without Mookie Betts, it was still a matchup in their favor. Sure enough, they got going right away as they loaded the bases immediately with their first three batters. That gave them a chance for a big inning, but as mentioned above they only got one run out of it on a J.D. Martinez sacrifice fly. They had the lead in the first, but it still felt like a loss.
After striking out in all three plate appearances in the second, Boston got right back to it in the third. There, thanks to a hit batter, a single and a walk, the bases were once again loaded, this time with one out. It looked like they may waste yet another opportunity when Mitch Moreland struck out, but Christian Vázquez had other ideas. The catcher has been waiting for homer number 20, and he got it here as well as his first career grand slam. With that swing, it was a 5-1 lead for the Red Sox. A few innings later Vázquez would smash number 21, this one of the solo variety to make it 6-2.
So, now it was up to the Red Sox bullpen to protect a four run lead over the last four innings with Porcello being pulled after five strong innings. Marcus Walden got the call for the sixth, but he’d get into a bit of trouble. Hoskins would draw a one-out walk before moving up to second on a ground ball. Walden couldn’t get the third out he needed, instead allowing an RBI single to Jean Segura. The Phillies drew to within three in the sixth.
Boston would go down in order in the top of the seventh, bringing Andrew Cashner on for the bottom of the frame in a 6-3 game. The righty walked the first batter he faced, but then retired each of the next three batters to keep the score the same.
The Red Sox would get two on in the eighth but strand them both, and Matt Barnes came on for the bottom of the inning. He allowed a one-out single but then turned around and induced a double play to face only three in the scoreless inning.
Finally, it was just up to Brandon Workman as he tried to lock down his fourteenth save of the year. He did just that, allowing a walk but nothing more as his outstanding season continues.
The Red Sox will be off on Monday before welcoming Mike Yastrzemski and the Giants to town for a three-game set starting Tuesday. Boston will likely be going with a bullpen game while the Giants send Logan Webb to the mound. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 PM ET.