This was a very frustrating night at Fenway for the Red Sox, who had a chance to jump out to an early lead against a good pitcher in Charlie Morton. They failed to take advantage of early chances, and they would live to regret it after Morton settled into a major groove over the middle and late portions of the game. On the other side, Garrett Richards was able to mostly work around command issues all night, but he did let a couple of lapses fall through and that was enough for a loss. These kinds of losses happen, but in a divisional race that already looks like it’ll go down to the wire with a lot of teams involved, you can’t miss too many chances. They missed one tonight.
The Red Sox have the fun task right now of trying to keep pace with the hottest team in the sport to stay at least close to the top of the division, and to try and do that they had to beat a guy in Charlie Morton who has pitched well against them in the past. Even in a season where he is struggling a bit to get into a rhythm, it was going to be a tough challenge, to say nothing of the Braves offense going against Garrett Richards. That’s why these first couple of innings for Boston’s bats proved to be such a big part of the game.
Morton did not have his command early on, and the Red Sox were taking some advantage to get on base. The Braves righty started the game by allowing a base hit to Kiké Hernández on the first pitch he threw, and then following that up with a walk to Alex Verdugo. With the first two men on, the Red Sox caught a break when J.D. Martinez ripped a line drive right at Ozzie Albies, but the Braves second baseman let it go right under his glove. Like that, the Red Sox have the bases full with nobody out.
This was a chance to make an early statement in this game, but Xander Bogaerts stunted some of that momentum with a strikeout to give Atlanta their first out of the inning. Morton was still struggling with control, however, and one got away from him that hit Rafael Devers, letting the Red Sox take the early 1-0 lead. They wanted more than that, but it wouldn’t happen. Christian Vázquez hit one on a line, but it was right at Dansby Swanson. This time the play was made, and to make matters worse Martinez was caught off the bag and doubled up to end the inning.
The good news is Boston had another strong inning in the second, again getting the first two guys on. This time it was Danny Santana leading off with a triple on a ball down into the right field corner, and that was followed with a walk to Hunter Renfroe. With runners on the corners and nobody out, it was another chance for the Sox to put a dent into this game. Again, they failed. Bobby Dalbec struck out for out number one and then Hernández grounded into a double play, and Boston had two major opportunities squandered.
They would regret it even more as the game went along, because sure enough Morton settled into a groove from there. Boston would get a two-out single in the third, and then went down in order in the next two innings. The one run they scored in the first two innings would loom large.
It would loom large because Richards, who had been so sharp of late, really struggled with his control. He was able to battle through the command issues thanks to a combination of upped velocity and good fortunate, but only for so long. He got through the first two innings while allowing just a single baserunner in each frame, but it sure felt lucky.
The third inning was when the command started to catch up to the veteran righty. He issued a walk to William Contreras to lead off the inning, and a couple batters later gave up a base hit when Freddie Freeman went against the shift. That brought Marcell Ozuna to the plate, and he jumped on the first pitch with a double out to straightaway center field, bringing one run home to tie the game at one run apiece. They’d get one more on a ground ball to second base, though Hernández did make a heads up play with a long throw across the diamond to get Ozuna at third base. Ozuna would have to leave the game after hurting his finger on the slide. Richards did manage a big strikeout after that to end the inning with the deficit only at one.
Just like the Red Sox earlier in the game, Atlanta would regret not grabbing a bigger lead there, and they squandered another chance in the sixth when they led the inning off with back-to-back singles before going down three in a row without any runs coming across. Richards would work around the fifth as well to keep it a 2-1 game, but then struggled again in the sixth.
Here, he got a quick first out but then gave up a single to Pablo Sandoval — his third single of the day to that point — and eventually issued a two-out walk as well. That free pass would end the night for Richards, who certainly was not at his best but still was impressive in a different kind of way to work around his issues to keep the game close.
But he also did leave the game in the hands of Hirokazu Sawamura coming in out of the bullpen with two men on and two outs and one of the best players on Earth coming to the plate in Ronald Acuña Jr. The latter won the battle, with the Braves star absolutely scorching a double into the corner in left field, bringing another run home to make it a 3-1 game. They’d then walk Freeman intentionally (after throwing a couple pitches), leading to a big battle against Ehire Adrianza, who came in for Ozuna. This was a battle Sawamura did win, getting a huge strikeout to leave the bases full and keep the deficit at two.
After the offense continued to be quiet with another 1-2-3 inning in the sixth, Sawamura was back out for the seventh. He was able to do something here that Richards couldn’t do all evening: Get a clean, 1-2-3 inning. Morton was back out for the bottom of the inning, though, and he made it 14 in a row to finish off his night, tossing another perfect frame in the seventh.
Garrett Whitlock came through with a perfect eighth, giving the Red Sox a two-run deficit to work with, but also with Atlanta’s bullpen coming in to try and close out the game for Morton. They finally did get another baserunner in this inning, too, with Verdugo drawing a two-out walk. That was all they got, though, and they stayed down two as we headed to the ninth.
Whitlock came back out for the top of the inning and stranded a man at third base in a scoreless inning, giving the offense one more chance to score at least two runs. They’d have to do so with Will Smith on the mound for the Braves. The inning wound up being a continuation of the last two-thirds of the game, with the Red Sox going down in order to drop the contest 3-1. The loss dropped their record to 29-20.
The Red Sox will now look to salvage a split in this two-game set on Wednesday night. Nick Pivetta takes the mound for that one with Drew Smyly going on the other side.