The 6-3 Red Sox took on the Baltimore Orioles Friday night in the first of 22 straight games against AL East opponents. After three series wins against the Phillies, Yankees and Nationals, all of whom are struggling, this series of games will be a good test to see where they are against a team like the Orioles that they will most likely be battling for division supremacy. Joe Kelly took on the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez, who like Clay Buchholz, regularly alternates between eminently hittable (6-9, 4.81 ERA last season) and very effective (13-9, 3.30 ERA in 2013). He was dominant in his first start allowing just one run and one hit, striking out eight in his first start of the year against Toronto exactly like Kelly did against the weaker Yankees.
Both clubs combined for just one hit through three innings. In the top of the fourth inning, the Orioles broke through. Sharp singles by Travis Snider and Adam Jones put runners at first and third with nobody out. After nearly striking out, Chris Davis brought Snider home on a 4-6-3 double play ball which made it 1-0, but squashed a potential big inning for Baltimore.
In the bottom of the fourth, the still hitless Red Sox got a break with a hit by pitch. Jimenez drilled Pablo Sandoval in the middle of the back, which may have been retaliation for Sandoval’s legal take-out slide the prior inning. Home Plate umpire Jordan Baker quickly ejected Jimenez, causing fireballing Kevin Gausman to enter the game. Typically when a player gets hit so egregiously, the ump will only issue warnings but ump Baker went right to the triple dog dare and kicked out an incredulous Jimenez. Whatever the result tonight, O’s manager Buck Showalter had to burn out his bullpen.
Baltimore added to their lead in the top of the fifth with a Fenway homer in the right field corner by catcher Caleb Joseph despite a valiant effort by right fielder Shane Victorino. The ball was just out of reach of Victorino’s outstretched glove. The Red Sox managed to even things up in the bottom of the inning. Xander Bogaerts singled to get the Sox into the hit column. Ryan Hanigan followed with a great at-bat in which he fouled off two tough two-strike pitches, one of which he seemed to take out of the catcher’s mitt. Gausman hung a slider on the inner half of the plate and Hanigan didn’t miss it, showing us his version of a Fenway homer, lofting it over the Green Monster down the left field line, tying the game at 2.
The Red Sox did their utmost to get Kelly through the sixth inning despite 100 pitches thrown through the fifth. Kelly recorded two outs but walked Davis to put runners on first and second with two outs in the sixth. Kelly had thrown 118 pitches at that point, so Manager John Farrell summoned Edward Mujica, who enticed Manny Machado to wave at a 3-2 pitch to preserve the tie.
While the Sox bullpen was shutting out the O’s, the Red Sox were threatening without success. A first and second, one out threat, in the bottom of the sixth, came up empty when Baltimore sidewinding righty Darren O’Day came in to strike out Mike Napoli and get Daniel Nava, hitting for Victorino, to fly out to the cavernous right center field alley. In the bottom of the eighth, the Red Sox had another scoring chance with first and second and one out, but Sandoval, hitting from his weaker right side (now 0 for 13 on the season from that side), bounced into a double play to end the threat.
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Koji Uehara had a 2013 quality split fingered fastball tonight, striking out two batters in his appearance. In the bottom of the ninth, Napoli led off with a walk. Nava turned around to bat righty (for the first time this season after supposedly abandoning switch-hitting) against the lefty Brian Matusz. After one of the earliest squaring to bunt stances that you will ever see, Nava dropped down a bunt that first baseman Steve Pearce thought about trying to gun out Napoli at second, but took the sure out at first, as Napoli reached second safely. When you are hitting almost .400, the BABIP (batting average balls in play) spirits are with you, as Bogaerts lifted a flare into short right field. Though there was only one out, Napoli read it perfectly off the bat and was able to score easily to give Bogaerts his first career walk-off hit, and the Red Sox a thrilling 3-2 victory.
- Dustin Pedroia committed his second error this season when he was unable to corral a screaming liner in the eighth inning. He had two errors all of last season.
- Mujica seems to be settling in as the seventh inning man appearing in his second straight game to start the bridge to Tazawa and Uehara when a game is tied or the Red Sox have the lead.
- Ortiz flew out against lefty Matusz, making him three for 26 for his career against his version of Kryptonite
Joe Kelly gutted out 118 pitches to get as deep into the game as he possibly could, trying to spare the bullpen as much as he could. He got into too many deep counts, though he walked two batters. He could not top his last virtuoso performance, but given the way the Sox starters have gone on their second turn, he did well to get the ball to Mujica with two outs in the sixth inning and the game still tied.
Though it was not a save situation, Mujica’s strikeout of Machado with the game tied in the sixth was clutch. To work around a hit to get the ball to Junichi Tazawa in the eighth inning, was huge. The Game Ball could have been Tazawa’s or Uehara’s as they were both operating on all cylinders tonight. All of their breaking pitches were positively filthy.
The team only managed five hits, though on a positive note, it required 5.1 innings from the O’s ‘pen. Hanigan is also a candidate for his two run jack in this tight game, but the award has to go to Bogaerts. First, for setting the stage for Hanigan’s power. Then in the ninth, to get the ball in the right patch of grass to enable Napoli to steam around with the winning run.