This was something of a strange game on Wednesday to kick off the doubleheader in Minnesota, and not just because it was a seven-inning game. To avoid burying the lede: The Red Sox won. Again. They have now won eight games in a row. They got a solid pitching performance from Nathan Eovaldi, and the offense did enough against a very good pitcher in Kenta Maeda. That said, they had a whole lot of chances to extend their lead, and after every time they failed it seemed like it’d come back to bite them. Except it didn’t. It was frustrating at times, but in hindsight it’s telling, I think. There’s some good juju with this club, and they’re winning games at all costs. I dig it.
Things were shaping up for today to be a big pitcher’s duel in both ends of the doubleheader, starting with the first tilt which pit Nathan Eovaldi against Kenta Maeda, the latter being the Cy Young runner up a year ago. Instead, while neither were hit around particularly hard, they also didn’t appear to have their best command. For Eovaldi, at least to me it seemed as though he didn’t have great feel for his breaking ball. The result was a lot of pitches for both sides.
Despite all of the pitches, however, neither side was able to get anything going in the opening frame. The Red Sox had a couple of men on with just one out thanks to a base hit and a walk, but neither Xander Bogaerts nor Rafael Devers could get the run in. On the other side, Eovaldi didn’t have quite as much trouble as Maeda (the latter surpassed the 20-pitch mark in that first inning), but he did give up a two-out double to Nelson Cruz before getting out of the inning.
In the second, the Red Sox once again were able to get to Maeda, and this time they didn’t let him off the hook. The rally got started on a leadoff base hit from Marwin Gonzalez, who quickly followed that with some good baserunning as he broke right away on a pitch in the dirt and made it safely into second. That turned out to be big as Hunter Renfroe then brought him home with an RBI single to give the Red Sox a 1-0 lead. After another single, Kevin Plawecki surprised everyone with a sacrifice bunt attempt. It surprised Maeda so much that the Twins pitcher tried to rush a throw to third, instead sailing it way off line and allowing Renfroe to come in and score. After Christian Arroyo came through with yet another single, it was a 3-0 game.
Not only were the Red Sox up three, but they also had a chance to really put this game away early as there were still no outs and runners on the corner. For some reason, though, they had the contact play on — I generally despise the contact play — and on a ground ball to the right side Plawecki was easily cut down at the plate. Throw in a strikeout and another ground out, and Boston couldn’t add more, having to settle for the 3-0 lead.
Still, it was a nice lead, and Eovaldi was able to come through with the all important shut down inning — side note: I haven’t heard an announcer use that term this year; is it officially dead? — in the bottom half of the second, as he came through with a 1-2-3 frame including a strikeout to end it.
The third would not be as simple. This is where the righty’s command really seemed the most off, though he also was on the other end of some batted ball luck to be fair. Minnesota started the inning with back-to-back singles, both hit on the ground. After the first out was recorded, Eovaldi threw one in the dirt that got by Plawecki, and the runners were both moved into scoring position. After that, Jorge Polanco had another ground ball single, this one bringing both runners in and just like that it was a one-run game.
Eovaldi came back to go up 0-2 on Cruz, but then went too inside with a fastball and put the slugger on with a hit by pitch. It looked like impending doom, but Eovaldi came through with a huge strikeout after that and eventually escaped the inning with the narrow lead still in had.
The Red Sox and Twins both failed to take advantage of one-out hits in the fourth — Boston’s was a Christian Arroyo double while Minnesota’s was a base hit — bringing us into the fifth with the score still 3-2. With it being a seven-inning game, we were reaching a crucial point of this contest, and the Red Sox got the start to the inning they were looking for when Bogaerts ripped a leadoff double into left field. He’d move over to third on a ground ball, but that’s as far as he made it as the offense wasted another chance to extend this lead.
It always seems like wasted opportunities are followed by some reaping of what you sow in the following inning, but Eovaldi had other ideas with his best inning of the day. He made quick work of the top of the Twins lineup, getting a pair of groundouts sandwiched around a strikeout for an easy 1-2-3 fifth.
In the sixth, the Red Sox offense had yet another chance for themselves, starting with a one-out single from Plawecki. A couple batters later, Alex Verdugo ripped a single of his own to put runners on the corners for a suddenly 0-for-his-last-7 J.D. Martinez with two outs. He failed to come through, hitting a weak fly ball out to right field for another inning with stranded runners for this lineup.
For the bottom of the sixth, the Red Sox went to the bullpen with Darwinzon Hernandez taking the mound. He didn’t miss bats as we’re accustomed to, but it didn’t matter. He got three straight fly balls for a perfect inning, doing the job and keeping the one-run lead on the board.
Looking for some insurance yet again in the seventh, Boston again had a chance to do just that. Bogaerts started the inning off — again — with a leadoff double, and this time Devers followed it up with a base hit to put runners on the corners. After a ground ball moved Devers to second, Renfroe drew a walk to load the bases. They still couldn’t come through, with both Kiké Hernández and Plawecki popping up to end the inning.
So, it was going to be a one-run lead to protect once again, and Matt Barnes was trying to stay red hot. It was not the start he was looking for, as he walked the first batter he faced. He answered back with a big strikeout, but then the Twins immediately stole second base to put the tying run into scoring position. Miguel Sanó was up next, and he just missed tying the game with a double, but it was foul by about a foot. On the next pitch, Barnes got his second strikeout of the outing, bringing Luis Arraez to the dish. He also looked to have gotten the game-tying hit, but Alex Verdugo — who moved over to left after Franchy Cordero was taken out of the game — made an incredible diving grab to end the game. This team just refuses to lose. That’s eight straight.
The Red Sox and Twins will be back out there in just 30 minutes to play the second game of this doubleheader. For that one, Eduardo Rodriguez goes for Boston with José Berríos getting the ball for the Twins.
[Not sure what’s going on with FanGraphs’s WPA graph tool, but it’s not updated. I’ll post it if/when it’s posted over there.]