What’s the best way to come back from a sweep? To get a sweep of your own. It’s just so crazy it might work. That’s exactly what the Red Sox have done to start the season, bouncing back from the brutal opening weekend by sweeping the Rays. They finished off the sweep with their second blowout of the three-game set. This one was largely due to a massive six-run fifth inning, a frame that was helped along by two errors from Tampa shortstop Willy Adames. Boston also got a great pitching performance from Nathan Eovaldi as well as another homer from Christian Vázquez.
The story for the Red Sox early in this season, to me anyway, has been the performance of their rotation. This was obviously the big question for the roster heading into the year, but their first turn of the rotation was 80 percent fantastic. Nathan Eovaldi was the first guy to get a second start, looking to build off a really strong outing on Opening Day. Even more, he was looking to actually pick up a win in the process. He can only control part of that, and he controlled the part that he could. Just as he did on Opening Day, Eovaldi was mixing in all of his pitches and the Rays had trouble getting too much going.
We know by now that generally speaking, the righty’s strikeout stuff doesn’t always match the velocity he throws with, but when he’s going well he is very tough to get good wood against. That was the case early on here at Fenway on Wednesday, and in the first he had a quick 1-2-3 inning, all on balls in play. He had another perfect frame in the second as well, this one with a strikeout mixed in.
In the third, we saw the first bit of trouble against Eovaldi on the afternoon. After a quick first out, Francisco Mejía broke up the early no-hitter by smacking a double down the third base line. Eovaldi almost got out of it, but with two outs Yoshi Tsutsugo came through with a base hit of his own, this one right up the middle. Kiké Hernández was in center for this one and made a perfect throw to the plate, but Mejía still got there in time and the Rays took the early 1-0 lead.
Eovaldi didn’t let things snowball from there, though. He got an out after the RBI single to limit the damage in that inning to just one, and then he started dealing again from there. He did issue his first walk of the day in the fourth, but came back with two strikeouts after it to end that inning without any runs. Then, in the fifth he tossed his third perfect frame of the game, this one with another strikeout being added to his line.
Over on the other side, the Red Sox had a matchup that does not typically go well for them. They were facing Ryan Yarbrough, a lefty who doesn’t even tough 90 mph. Over the years, with all different hitters, it seems every iteration of the Red Sox has trouble with these soft-tossing, command-oriented lefties. That was the case for the first few innings on Wednesday as well, with Boston’s lineup managing just two singles and sending only 10 batters to the plate over the first three innings.
In the fourth, trailing 1-0 at this point, the lineup finally started to come alive a bit. Rafael Devers got things started with a walk to put the leadoff runner on and get a little pressure on the Rays starter. He’d move up to second on a check-swing ground out from J.D. Martinez, and then come around to score and tie this game at one apiece thanks to an RBI single from Xander Bogaerts. That brought Christian Vázquez to the plate, who was in the DH spot for this game. A few years ago, that idea would have been absurd. Now, it makes all the sense in the world for exactly the reason we saw. After hitting the huge ninth inning homer on Tuesday night, he turned right around Wednesday afternoon with another big swing, this one a two-run shot out to left field to give Boston the 3-1 lead.
They weren’t about to stop there. In the fifth inning, after a quick first out they got two men on right after that with Kevin Plawecki being hit by a pitch and Hernández smacking a base hit. Eventually, Martinez came up with those two on and two outs, and he stayed scorching hot. This time he went to the pull side, putting one off the Monster down the left field line for a two-run double. Just like that, it was a 5-1 Red Sox lead.
A Willy Adames error allowed the inning to continue, and Vázquez came through again, this time with a base hit to bring home Martinez and extend the lead to five. From there, Adames made another error, this time of the throwing variety on a routine ground ball, and two more runs came across. At this point the floodgates were opened and it was a 8-1 ballgame. Throw in a bloop Christian Arroyo double, and it was a 9-1 game by the time the dust of the fifth settled.
Eovaldi came back out after the long layoff for the sixth, and while he did give up a double and issue a walk, he was able to get through the inning without a run coming across. He was not done there, either, coming back out for the seventh. He did issue a leadoff walk, but bounced back with a quick double play and another quick out to get through seven strong, still under 100 pitches. Despite the solid pitch count, that would be the end of the line for him, allowing just the one run over seven innings of work on three hits (two doubles and a single) and two walks with seven strikeouts. It’s basically the ideal start to the year for him through two starts.
With Eovaldi now out of the game, it was Josh Taylor getting the nod to start the eighth. It’s been a tough start to the year for the lefty, but he tossed a perfect inning in this one. He’d come back again for the ninth as well to try and finish this one off. He wasn’t able to keep things quite as clean this time around, as he allowed a run on a walk, a double and a single. Still, he got the job done insofar as the Red Sox didn’t need to go further into the bullpen. All around, a good game and a good series.
The Red Sox will now look to avenge their previous sweep at the hands of the Orioles as they head to Baltimore for a three-game set that kicks off tomorrow. Eduardo Rodriguez will make his season debut with likely Matt Harvey going for the O’s.