A couple of crafty vets took the hill on a beautiful Friday evening at Fenway, as 40-year-old Adam Wainwright (5-4, 2.84 ERA) took the hill against 30-year-old Michael Wacha (4-1, 2.33 ERA). The Cardinals entered the game at 37-28 with a two-game lead in the NL Central, while the Red Sox entered in fourth place in the AL East with a 34-30 record, 13 ½ games behind the Yankees.
After a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the first, with two strikeouts from Wacha, the Red Sox struck first in the bottom of the inning. Jarren Duran led off the game for the Sox with a triple off the center-field wall, cruising into third. Rafael Devers was then hit by pitch, something that has become far too common lately but likely a minor inconvenience on an 85 mph pitch. J.D. Martinez grounded into a double play, which removed the RBI but scored the first run for a 1-0 Boston lead after one.
Nolan Arenado quickly evened things up with the hardest-hit ball of the game, a 108.6 mph rocket to left field, tying the game at 1-1. Wacha retired the next three batters, and then Wainwright struck out the side in the bottom of the second.
After an uneventful third, where each team was only able to muster a two-out baserunner, things picked up in the fourth inning. In the top of the inning, Arenado hit the second hardest ball of the game (also Arenado’s second-hardest batted ball) for a single but was erased when a Nolan Gorman line drive brought Franchy Cordero directly to the first base bag for a double play. In the bottom of the inning, Martinez led things off with a single before Xander Bogaerts went oppo with a missile off the bullpen wall in right-center for a double. We’ve been waiting for Trevor Story to break out (again) and a great piece of hitting knocked in two runs as he slapped a single through the hole on the right side. Story made at least three good-to-great plays on the defensive side as well, continuing to be the key to a “180” on the infield defense this season. The Sox lead 3-1 after four.
There was action in the fifth without any scoring. Dylan Carlson and Harrison Bader each singled but were left stranded in the top half. In the bottom half, Devers found his way on base again with a single and a steal of second, his second theft of the year. Martinez grounded out to third to end the threat.
Wacha was chased from the game in the top of the sixth, after allowing a Paul Goldschmidt single and walking Arenado. Wacha departed allowing six hits, a walk, and a run, with five strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings. He threw 88 pitches, 54 for strikes, with an average fastball velocity of 94.2 mph, up 1.1 on his season average, maxing out at 96.3. His most effective pitch was the changeup, eliciting 6 of his 11 whiffs and a 37% CSW. John Schreiber came in relief and did what he’s done all season long, shut things down. A lineout to center off the bat of Gorman, followed by a strikeout of Tyler O’Neill ended the threat. Wainwright made quick work in the bottom of the inning, still 3-1.
In the seventh, after a Carlson walk, Bader grounded into a 5-4-3 double play before Schreiber was lifted for left-hander Matt Strahm. An Andrew Knizner pop-out ended the inning. The Red Sox broke things open (but not for good) in the bottom of the seventh. Wainwright was still in, allowing a double to Franchy Cordero to open the inning before Vazquez got him to third on a groundout for the first out. The Cardinals summoned left-hander T.J. McFarland who entered the game with an ERA north of seven to potentially face three left-handers. Jackie Bradley singled home the fourth run to center field, another hitter who found a hole the other way against the shift, scoring Cordero. Wainwright’s line was complete at this point: 6 1/3 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K. Dalbec pinch-hit for Duran and immediately hit a 104.5 mph rocket off the center-field wall, which nearly left the yard. Devers continued the trend of “hitting it where they ain’t” by slapping a single down the third-base line, and scored both Bradley and Dalbec to make the score 6-1. Probably not the outing that McFarland had in mind, as he was lifted for Nick Wittgren, who got out of it to end the seventh.
From there, barely a thing happened until there were two out in the ninth inning. Strahm and Wittgren stayed in to work a quick eighth inning, keeping the score at 6-1. Austin Davis retired two batters immediately to open the ninth. So, how in the world did we get to the tying run at second base in a 6-5 game? With two outs, Carlson doubled, Bader tripled, and Knizner was hit by a pitch. Now the score was 6-2 and with the tying run in the on-deck circle, it was a save situation for, presumably, the new closer Tanner Houck. Houck immediately allowed back-to-back doubles to Tommy Edman and Brendan Donovan and the score was 6-5. Scorching hot NL MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt had a chance to be the hero, putting up a good battle, but took a sinker for a called third strike to end the game. Houck had his third save, and the Red Sox narrowly escaped with a 6-5 win in the opener.
On Saturday at 7:15 ET on FOX, we’ll see Dakota Hudson take the hill for St. Louis (4-3, 3.29) facing Kutter Crawford (1-1, 5.75) for Boston.