This is why knuckle ball pitchers cannot be trusted.
When they’re on they can be unhittable. But when they’re off you get what we saw tonight in Houston as Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright and backup catcher Ryan Lavarnway imploded in the first inning allowing four passed balls and three runs.
It was so bad that Wright was pulled after the one inning in favor of Brandon Workman. It put the Red Sox in a quick hole but the offense picked a great night to explode as the Red Sox scored five runs each in the fifth and sixth innings as they pounded the Astros 15-10 in a wild game at Minute Maid Park.
The offensive highlight was yet another pinch hit home run from Jonny Gomes (2-2, HR, 4RBI), this one a three-run shot in the sixth to break open a fairly close game and give the Sox the cushion they needed to recover from a bad pitching night from Wright.
Sox manager John Farrell has made mostly all the right moves this season. But his decision to start Wright tonight to give his entire rotation an extra day of rest turned out to be an embarrassment that blew up in his face. Wright was awful and pairing him with an inexperienced backup catcher was not Farrell’s finest hour.
In one inning of work Wright allowed the three runs on one hit with two walks, a wild pitch, and one hit batsmen. His performance was reminiscent of Daniel Bard‘s final start as a Red Sox last season in Toronto.
Lavarnway chipped in with the four passed balls and a stolen base allowed in the inning as the Astros quickly jumped on top 3-0. The four passed balls tied a major league record last reached in 1987 by Geno Petralli of the Texas Rangers in a game in which Charlie Hough (knuckle baller!) was the pitcher.
Lavarnway has been used sparingly since David Ross went down and Farrell picked a game with a knuckle ball starter to finally get him in there. Regular catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is no defensive wizard but the move makes you scratch your head based on the results.
The poor pitching meant the Red Sox offense was needed tonight and they showed up, big time.
It started in the third inning as they put up a three spot against Houston starter Jordan Lyles as Jacoby Ellsbury (2-4, 3RBI, 4R) slammed a 2-run homer, his first of two on the night, and David Ortiz (4-4, 2RBI. 2R) followed three batters later with an RBI single to cut a 5-0 Astros lead to 5-3.
Workman was not as effective tonight as he had been in his three previous appearances allowing a 2-run home run to Robbie Grossman in the second inning and a solo shot to Brett Wallace in the third to extend the Astros lead to 6-3.
Jonathan Villar added an RBI single in the fourth with the infield pulled in to make it 7-3 Houston.
But Boston battled back again in the fifth and chased Lyles from the game as Ellsbury walked, was doubled to third by Shane Victorino (3-5, 4R) and scored on the errant relay throw to second. Dustin Pedroia followed with an RBI double to score Victorino. After an Ortiz single and Mike Napoli strikeout, Mike Carp drove in Pedroia with an RBI ground out to first base to make it 7-6.
After a Stephen Drew walk, Lavarnway atoned for his horrendous first inning by crushing a two-run double to deep left center that scored Ortiz and Drew to put the Sox ahead for the first time in the game 8-7.
In the sixth, the Sox finally blew the game open as Pedroia and Ortiz hit RBI singles and Gomes cleared the bases later in the inning with his pinch hit homer, his fourth off the bench and ninth overall this season, to make it 13-7 Red Sox.
As for Workman, he was only so-so in this relief outing. He gave them innings but his final line was a rough one: 4 2/3 IP, 9H, 6ER, 2BB, 2K, 2HR allowed.
Rubby De La Rosa made his Red Sox debut and mopped up with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
But the pitching shortcomings in this game were about Wright, not Workman. It was a terrible performance that the Red Sox did not need against the worst team in baseball.
Clay Buchholz, who threw 27 pitches in the bullpen before the game, cannot come back fast enough as this rotation is starting to show a few cracks without his presence.