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Red Sox 4, Nationals 2: One down, two to go

The Red Sox take care of business on Friday.

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MLB: Boston Red Sox at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles series was a disaster. No one can reasonably deny that. But what’s done is done, and all that’s left is the fact that the Red Sox need to take care of business in Washington. Sweep, and you at least get a Game 163. They did what they needed to do on Friday. Things were frustrating a lot early on, but Eduardo Rodriguez worked his way out of some big jams and the offense finally broke through with four runs on back-to-back homers from Hunter Renfroe and Bobby Dalbec. Those four runs would be enough as the bullpen bent but did not break in an important victory.

It feels like I’ve been watching the same start to every game this week, with special little turning points that make it uniquely hard to watch. The starting pitching gets the job done, which given the way this team is constructed should lead to a win. That’s especially true against the kinds of pitchers they’ve been facing. But the offense just keeps struggling, and it’s a wicked combination of meager contact, bad at bats, and just listless play in general.

In this one, they were facing yet another soft-tossing lefty, the sixth straight game in which that has been the case. And as they’ve done throughout this stretch, they just didn’t put together rallies. The first four innings were really nothing out of the norm compared to what we’ve seen this whole stretch. Boston did put a runner on in each of those innings, but none of them were able to advance beyond first base.

Meanwhile, it what could very well be his last appearance in a Red Sox uniform, Rodriguez did the job in keeping runs off the board, though it wasn’t quite as dominant as we saw from some of the other starters recently. In fact, he got into trouble right away in the first inning when he allowed a leadoff double, but he didn’t give up anything else besides an unintentional intentional walk to Juan Soto to get out of the frame unscathed. Rodriguez was much better in the next two innings, getting through perfect innings in each.

That brings us to the bottom of the fourth, which really felt like a big moment in this game. Rodriguez got into big-time trouble in this one, issuing a leadoff walk to Soto before giving up two straight singles to load the bases with nobody out. In a scoreless game, it seemed certain to result in a lead for the Nationals. But to the southpaw’s credit, he got out of it. Rodriguez struck out Jordy Mercer and got a pop up from Carter Kieboom for the first two outs. After that, Andrew Stevenson hit a tapper to the right side. Kiké Hernández, who got the start at second base in this one, was playing back but made a spectacular play coming in to barehand the ball and get the final out. Somehow, the game was still scoreless after four.

Boston Red Sox v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The escape provided a very real chance for the Red Sox offense to seize on some momentum here and take a lead themselves, and Christian Vázquez started things well with a single. That brought Rodriguez to the plate, forced into an offensive rule thanks to the National League still playing like it’s 1948. Rodriguez tried to get a bunt down, but popped it up. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he didn’t move out of the box at all, so Nationals pitcher Josh Rogers made a smart play to let the ball drop, resulting in a huge double play. Hernández would draw a walk to give Boston their first inning with multiple baserunners, but still with no one advancing beyond first base.

Rodriguez came back out in the fifth and had another big moment, working around a two-out single by striking out Soto, who may be the best hitter on the planet. And then in the sixth, Boston finally got their first runner into scoring position after singles from Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez.

And it seemed that was what was needed to snap them out of their funk, for one inning at least. With two men on, Hunter Renfroe stepped in, and in a 2-2 count he punished a fastball that was left right over the plate. It was smashed way out to left-center field for a three-run shot, breaking the scoreless tie. And just for good measure, Bobby Dalbec took a hanging slider on the first pitch in the next at bat and sent it out for a solo homer, making it a 4-0 game.

Rodriguez came back out to start the bottom half of the sixth after ending the top half at the plate, and got into immediate trouble with a walk and a single. With nobody out, Alex Cora came out and ended the night, perhaps the last time Rodriguez will walk off the mound in a Red Sox uniform. As I said above, this was not a dominant start, and he needed some help from Ryan Brasier to keep it at a scoreless outing. Brasier obliged, getting a ground ball and then two strikeouts to keep the score 4-0 through six.

That was still the score as we went into the bottom of the seventh, and Matt Barnes came on for Boston. He started off well with two quick outs, but then he didn’t get a 2-2 fastball up quite high enough and Alcides Escobar hit a solo shut to cut the Red Sox lead down to three. Darwinzon Hernandez came on to finish things off, but he’d walk Soto before giving up a single to Josh Bell. With J.D. Martinez out in right field for this one, he threw a strike to third base to cut down Soto and end the inning on a big defensive play.

For the eighth, the Red Sox called on Adam Ottavino to protect the three-run lead. He’s been having some uncharacteristic home run issues of late, and they propped up again when he gave up a solo shot to Jordy Mercer. With two outs he’d also give up a two-out double to Andrew Stevenson, bringing Nats legend Ryan Zimmerman to the plate as a pinch hitter representing the tying run. Ottavino won the battle, getting a big strikeout to keep the lead at two.

That just left things up to Hansel Robles in the ninth, with the Nationals sending the top of their order up. He got the first two batters in front of Soto, and then looked to have struck out the star except Christian Vázquez couldn’t squeeze a foul tip. Robles walked Soto on the next pitch, and then followed it up with another walk to Bell. Suddenly, the tying run was on base and the winning run was at the plate in the form of Keibert Ruiz with two outs. But Robles successfully walked the tightrope, getting Ruiz to pop out to right to end it.

The 4-2 win pushed the Red Sox record to 90-70. As of this writing, the Yankees trail late against the Rays. If that score holds, Boston will move to within a game of that top spot. Toronto, meanwhile, took care of their own business against Baltimore to stay a game behind the Red Sox. The Mariners started the day tied with Boston, and they just started their game against the Angels.

The Red Sox and Nationals get back on the field tomorrow afternoon at 4:05 PM ET. Josiah Gray is going for Washington, while the Red Sox have not yet announced their starter as of this writing.