I’ll be frank right off the bat: This was one of the ugliest baseball games I can remember. It had some sloppy defense, poor pitching, and for the Red Sox things were much closer than they needed to be. The bullpen in particular continues to look like an issue as they turned a blowout into a game that had a few moments where it looked like things were on the cusp of disaster. But let’s give credit where it’s due. They won the game. Nick Pivetta was solid for five innings in the start. The offense was tremendous all night, getting it done by stringing some hits together and also with the long ball. Matt Barnes was Matt Barnes. It’s the Tigers and the Red Sox really should have cruised the whole way through, but we’ll take wins however they come.
Coming off a rough series in Texas and a bad week overall for the offense, the Red Sox were looking not only to get back on track, but preferably to do so with a statement series against the Tigers, who entered play on Tuesday as the worst team in baseball. Boston had Nick Pivetta on the mound for the opener, a guy who has been good this season but has also worked around some control issues. If there was any lineup against whom he could feel comfortable pounding the zone, it should be Detroit’s, who entered the day as far and away the worst offense in baseball by wRC+, boasting a mark of just 67.
But early on, it didn’t really look like Pivetta was going to be up to the task. He walked the first batter he faced, and then should have walked the second batter as well. Fortunately, Jeimer Candelario swung through ball four to end the at bat. The Tigers would get a runner into scoring position when Robbie Grossman, who drew the leadoff walk, stole second. Pivetta would be able to work out of any issues and ultimately get through the inning cleanly.
This game was really about the Red Sox offense just overwhelming the Tigers pitching staff, though, and really the story of that was in the bottom half of the first inning. Detroit really should have had an easier time with that inning, but they didn’t and the Red Sox took advantage of mistakes. Kiké Hernández led things off by drawing a walk, and then it appeared Alex Verdugo had hit a double play ball back to the mound. The only problem is Michael Fulmer’s throw sailed way over the fielder’s glove and into center field, turning a two-out play into a no-out play and giving Boston runners on the corners.
This was the kind of break this scuffling Red Sox offense was looking for, and they were not about to let it get away. Although, again, it looked like they might. J.D. Martinez hit what looked like it’d be another double play ball. This time Detroit was too slow to turn the 5-4-3 twin killing and Martinez just barely beat it out. (The play was reviewed and upheld.) That scored one run, and then the Red Sox threw a singles party. Four of the next five batters they sent to the plate came away with base hits, and by the time the dust settled on that bottom of the first the Red Sox had a 4-0 lead and sent all nine starters to the plate.
The Tigers apparently liked what they saw from the singles over on the other side, because they gave that strategy a try in the second. After Pivetta got a strikeout to lead off the inning, Detroit got two straight singles. The Red Sox righty did come back with yet another strikeout to almost escape, but the Tigers had two more singles up their sleeve to plate two runs and cut the Red Sox lead in half. This one wasn’t really a result of bad pitching as much as it was bad luck with balls finding the hole.
Now it was up to the offense to get those runs back and keep Detroit an arm’s length away. After doing it with base hits in the first, the Sox decided to go with a more modern approach here in the second. It started with Verdugo, who didn’t get help from the defense this time around. Instead, he took a 3-2 fastball on the outer half and blasted it up and into the Monster seats for a solo shot, upping the lead back up to three. After Martinez ripped a single in the next at bat, Xander Bogaerts came up. He already had an RBI single on the day, but this time he did even better, obliterating a high fastball for a two-run shot to make it a 7-2 game. Boston would add another in the third on a wild pitch in an inning that also included a double from Hunter Renfroe and a pair of walks.
As for Pivetta, after he got into a bit of a groove after those first two innings and was able to keep the Tigers at bay for the next couple of frames. In fact, he retired all six batters he faced in the third and fourth innings, striking out five of them. The fifth was much more precarious as he started out allowing a single followed by an RBI double, and then issued a walk. It looked like what was an 8-3 game might be a close one by the end of the fifth. Instead, Pivetta got a huge double play in the next at bat and eventually ended the inning with just the one run coming across.
The Red Sox got that run right back, too, with Renfroe continuing a really nice day at the plate. This was his biggest swing of the day as he blasted a solo shot out to left field to make it a 9-3 game. Not only that, but the big fly was number 100 in his career.
So, things were in cruise control leading up to the sixth inning, but at this point Pivetta was out and the Red Sox turned to Austin Brice to keep this game rolling. He did not do that. Instead, he gave up a leadoff base hit, a hard-hit fly out to right field, then hit a batter. That brought JaCoby Jones to the plate, and he swung at the first pitch he saw, sending it into the Monster Seats for a three-run shot. Suddenly, we were back in a three-run ballgame. Brice had one more batter in him, allowing a double out to left field before he was lifted.
Now, Matt Andriese was on the mound trying to keep the score as is and give the offense an opportunity to open things back up. Instead, he immediately gave up a base hit to Grossman to bring another run home and cut the Red Sox lead down to just two. It would only get worse, with Grossman stealing second and then moving on to third when the throw down ricocheted off his back into the outfield. Fortunately, Andriese settled down from there with two huge strikeouts — the latter of which ended a ten-pitch at bat against Miguel Cabrera — to finish out the inning and keep the score at 9-7.
The Red Sox weren’t going to get all four runs back on the board in one inning this time around, but they did get a little bit of that damage back. Martinez started the rally with a one-out single, and a couple batters later Christian Vázquez came to the plate. He already had a couple hits in this game, and on a 3-2 pitch he ripped a double into the left field corner. Martinez was off on the pitch and he showed some rare value with his legs, coming all the way around to score and put the Red Sox back up by three.
That brought Adam Ottavino into the game for the seventh, and he got into a little more trouble. The righty walked the second batter he faced, and the Tigers continued to put on pressure on the bases. Niko Goodrum stole second base and got to third on a bad throw that got into center field, all with just one out. Ottavino’s control issues are buoyed by strong stuff, though, and he reminded us of that here by striking out two in a row to end the inning and leave Goodrum 90 feet from the dish.
After the Red Sox went down in order in the bottom of the inning, it was Darwinzon Hernandez getting the call for the eighth. The lefty did get a quick first out, but then Bobby Dalbec had trouble with a ground ball to the right side that put a runner on with an error, and Hernandez followed that up with a walk, a wild pitch and another walk to load the bases. That was all from him, and Matt Barnes had to come into the game with the bases full and one out in the eighth, his team up by three. The closer got the job done, inducing a huge double play to stop the rally in its tracks and keep the lead at three.
Barnes would come back out for the ninth with a new score on the board after Kiké Hernández blasted a solo homer in the bottom of the eighth. It was now an 11-7 game that Barnes was trying to finish out, which he did in order, continuing his dominant season. The win pushes the Red Sox record to 18-12.
The Red Sox will look to clinch a series victory on Wednesday in the second game of the three-game set, with Martín Pérez taking on Casey Mize. First pitch is set for 7:10 PM ET.