Martín Pérez entered today hoping to turn his season around. Over his last two outings, he has combined for 11 earned runs in 3 1⁄3 innings, a 29.70 ERA. Worse, it hasn’t even felt like bad luck. Opponents are seeing the ball, hitting it, and hitting it very hard. He has mustered all of two strikeouts in return. In short, when he’s taken the mound recently, it has spelled disaster.
The Red Sox attacked with some urgency early. Alex Verdugo scored the first hit of the game with a double over the head of center-fielder Michael Taylor, and J.D. Martinez pushed him over to third on a ground out. Verdugo also scored the first run of the game, via a Xander Bogaerts single in no-man’s land between Taylor and both middle infielders for the Royals. That was it for the first inning, but it was nice to see the Sox score early.
The key to victory however, was going to lie with how Pérez performed, and how quickly Alex Cora would switch if Pérez’s struggles continued.
Pérez gave up a walk to the first batter he faced. Then on the next pitch, he stole second pretty easily. That’s what happens when you walk the league leader in stolen bases. His second batter was an intensive workout, but he was able to get a strikeout for his troubles. Pérez was backed up by his defense as well, as a weak dribbler to shortstop, with the infield in, led to a play at the plate. The result: one huge out. From there, the inning was less dangerous. 1-0 with the Red Sox on top after one.
Thankfully, Pérez looked a little more like the guy he was in May in his second inning, as he set down the side without much drama (outside of a walk to the third batter of the inning), and without having to throw a lot of pitches. He was changing speeds, hitting the outside corners, and avoided the middle of the plate, all of which are massive improvements over his last two starts.
His third inning was a return to the poor form from the first inning, though. It started innocently enough. A bloop single over the glove of Enrique Hernández. Then the next batter put one on the ground, again, out of the reach of Hernández. The runner on first ended up on third, and somehow, the batter ended up at second base, with no outs, and Pérez about to face the heart of the order. A ground ball led to an out at first, the first of the inning, but a run scored to tie the game. Whit Merrifield continued to be a pest as he stole yet another, his third against Pérez in this game, to put a runner on third with only one out. History repeated, however, as he was cut down again, without being able to score.
The Red Sox offense was mostly quiet against Brad Keller, but they had a big rally in the fifth inning. First, Hernandez drew a walk, exhausing a lot of pitches. Then Bobby Dalbec launched a ball into deep left field. It wasn’t a home run, but it was the next best thing: an RBI triple. Dalbec scored on another weak groundout by Danny Santana, which is about the only type of contact he’s been making lately. Verdugo drew a nine pitch walk to likely steal an inning from Keller. But the dagger came from J.D. Martinez, who hit his first home run since June 10th (and the 100th of his Red Sox career), to put the Red Sox on top 5-1.
At this point, it was up to Pérez . The offense did their job. Pérez just needed to do his. Pérez bounced back from the bounce back that was a bounce back. That’s a confusing way of saying that he was back to being the better version of himself in the fifth inning. He gave up a leadoff single, but the rest of the lineup was no threat in the inning. Pérez finished after this inning, as Cora turned to Garrett Whitlock.
The common themes of his outing today were pretty clear to this writer. In the good innings, he had his changeup working, and was hitting the zone’s corners enough for the umpire to give him an earned call. In the bad innings, his changeup wasn’t working, and he escaped damage only by way of insanely good luck, coupled with terrible baserunning instincts from the other team. At the end of the day, the score is all that matters, and Pérez left with a lead. You’ll take that from a pitcher who is supposed to be your #5 guy in the rotation. You’ll take it from anyone in the rotation.
Whitlock's changeup is a wiffle ball screwball pic.twitter.com/MJJlua0qnD— Red Sox Stats (@redsoxstats) June 19, 2021
Whitlock for his part did what Whitlock always seems to. Take the open door and shut it closed. He pitched two innings, and gave up two hits, striking out two. He showed off his crazy changeup yet again, and gave everyone more hope for the future. He turned the ball over to Hirokazu Sawamura in the 8th inning. There was no drama. He looked decent.
Another player who looked decent was Bobby Dalbec, who crushed a two run home-run in the top of the 9th inning to the opposite field, to make it 7-1, in favor of the good guys. Dalbec had himself a hell of a game, and earns my player of the game vote for his efforts. Dalbec went 3-3, with a home run, triple, and single, and a three RBI performance to boot. Had he had a chance, he may have been able to hit for the cycle, as he was absolutely locked in at the plate.
The Red Sox sent in one last pitcher to close the game out for the Sox in this one: Brandon Workman. Workman has faced some struggles with his command since coming back to Boston, but he’s actually had himself a decent time back with the Sox, results-wise. He still walks too many batters for anyone to ever trust him in a 9th inning role, but with a six run lead, you had to feel confident.
Workman set them down with minimal effort, two hits, but no runs allowed.
The Red Sox improved to 43-28, putting them in a tie (for the moment) with the Tampa Bay Rays for first place in the AL East. Tomorrow’s game is the last of the series, and it begins at 2:10.