What a way to start a series! The first game between the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, this season, at Fenway Park proved to be a very exciting matchup. Though both teams showed their ability to make mistakes, they also showed the ability to capitalize on opposing teams’ failures.
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On a chilly, cloudy night in Boston, in front of over 34 700 baseball fans, Red Sox starting pitcher Joe Kelly took the mound against Blue Jays young prospect, turned starter Aaron Sanchez. Whether it was the weather or the youth on the bump, it didn’t take long for both lineups to get the jump on these two young men.
In the top of the first inning, Blue Jays leadoff man Jose Reyes singled and stole second base to set up their new beast Devon Travis to drive him in with a single to right field. A few batters later, catcher Russell Martin, newly acquired by Toronto in the off-season from the Pittsburgh Pirates, spanked a double that caught the door in the left field wall, allowing Travis and third baseman Josh Donaldson to score.
In the bottom of the first, the Red Sox responded in kind. Their own leadoff man and center fielder Mookie Betts walked, but while trying to steal second base, Martin unleashed a bullet from the plate to his infielder to tag Betts out. A few batters later, Pablo Sandoval launched a ball to left field, scoring Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. The game was already 3-2 and we only finished the first inning.
Apr 23, 2015; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval (48) at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
In the top of the third inning, Travis showed why the Blue Jays execs were right in trading for him from the Detroit Tigers in the off-season. After two called strikes, he belted a 98 mph fastball to center field, making a statement that his incredible bat speed was faster than Kelly’s pitch. To be fair, Kelly was missing with his location at times. Red Sox catcher Ryan Hanigan set up in many different places and Kelly, unfortunately for Boston, would throw a pitch that seemed nowhere near where Hanigan wanted it. That fastball was one of those pitches, set up outside but ended up down the middle of the plate.
In the top of the fourth inning, Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar got into the act by singling to left field to score Martin. The stage was set for a flying panda. After the single moved Michael Saunders to second base, it was Dalton Pompey‘s job to move the runner to third. The bunt sign was made and Pompey did as instructed, but, as often happens with young players, Pompey proved that he needs more education with the bat when attempting to bunt. He popped the ball into the air, still close to the plate. A charging Sandoval leaped as horizontally as he could and made the catch, holding the runner. Kelly got out of the inning, with no more damage done, with a beautiful double play executed by Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, unassisted to second and first base.
Sandoval followed up his feats of stratospheric skill with a rope of a solo home run, hit to right field like it was the ball’s mission to live there. Apparently, that was all that his body could stand, as Sandoval was substituted defensively by Allen Craig in the top of the sixth inning, with reports of a neck injury. Brock Holt went to third base, Craig to first base, and Daniel Nava went to right field.
Just before that, in the bottom of the fifth inning, Betts continued making the Green Monster his ally, banking another double off of the wall in left field. He would later score on a throwing error by Sanchez, as the pitcher attempted to field a soft ground ball by Pedroia and threw it, accidentally, into the bleachers.
Until the bottom of the eighth inning, the relievers for both teams took over, keeping the scoreboard quiet. With the Blue Jays’ young prospect Roberto Osuna on the mound, the Red Sox bats came alive, again. On a 1-0 count, Betts struck again, with a single to left field. After Pedroia singled to move Betts to second base, Osuna unleashed a wild pitch that Martin couldn’t keep in front of him, allowing both runners to move up. Osuna was then instructed to intentionally walk Ortiz to get to Hanley Ramirez.
While you chew on that one, that the Blue Jays made sure they gave up a chance to get out Ortiz, who has been severely struggling lately, to get to Boston’s leading RBI hitter, just know that Han-Ram didn’t disappoint the Fenway faithful. He smacked a sacrifice fly to left field that scored Betts. However, what was the most disappointing for Red Sox Nation was not that the next two batters got out to allow Osuna to escape the inning, but that Craig’s 8-pitch battle ended with an 86 mph called strike, something he strongly regrets, most likely.
The score was tied, going into the bottom of the ninth inning. If the Red Sox would have taken advantage of the young Blue Jays pitcher for another run, they wouldn’t be in this situation. However, the Blue Jays used another of their young pitchers, Miguel Castro, to try to finish off the frame. Instead, after Bogaerts and Hanigan both singled to get on base, Castro threw a wild pitch of his own, allowing the runners to move up, giving Betts an opportunity to win the game.
And, like many Bostonians are learning quickly, don’t ever bet against Betts, as he singled to center field, cashing in Bogaerts in a walk-off victory, 6-5.
- Kelly ended his night with 5 earned runs, 3 walks, and 10 strikeouts on 5 hits, including a home run. He lasted 5.0 innings. Sanchez, technically, bested him with 3 earned runs, 2 walks, and 7 strikeouts in 5.2 innings. However, another run scored on his throwing error, making the night fairly even in their head-to-head comparison.
- Sandoval accounted for 3 RBIs on the night, going 2-for-2 before being substituted with injury. His batting average stands now at .294, after starting slowly for the season.
- Betts had a big night at the plate, going 3-for-4 with an RBI and a walk, while crossing the plate twice. This night improved his batting average to .218 for the year, so far.
- Jose Bautista did play in this game for the Blue Jays as the designated hitter, but was kept quiet with a walk and two strikeouts. In fact, the meat of the Jays’ lineup was also held in check, with the exception of Travis and Martin each earning two RBIs.
- Koji Uehara came into the ninth inning, which his quick work, including two strikeouts, earned him his second win of the season.
You can’t justify five runs earning a ‘B’, but after a rocky first inning, holding the opposing team by earning ten strikeouts isn’t too bad. Two more runs were scored, one at a time, one of which was a solo home run because of a fat pitch over the plate. After the first inning, Kelly’s confidence could have been completely shot, rolled over, and died for another blowout, like the Red Sox’ last game against the Baltimore Orioles (18-7). Instead, the Red Sox were able to mount another comeback.
Red Sox manager John Farrell may like the strategy of taking pitches and work into the opposing team’s bullpen. However, with every team in the American League East, including the Red Sox, living with pitchers who give up a ton of runs early and leaving them in games, comebacks may be pointless if run totals are getting away from them too early.
They combined for 3.0 innings, giving up only a hit and a walk, while striking out four Blue Jays. They took care of their business to keep their team in the game, blanking the Blue Jays until their own bats could catch up. What else could you ask for? Uehara even earned the win. That’s as close to perfection as a bullpen can get, realistically, with a potentially potent Blue Jays lineup against them.
Ten hits is nothing to sneeze at, especially when they came from multiple people, this time. However, as much as Sandoval had a great night, at the plate and on defense, he could have been even more successful if he didn’t injure his neck. Can’t fault him for that. In fact, he should be praised for putting his body on the line for the game.
Just not for this game ball. Mookie Betts earned this award because of his strategy to use the Green Monster to his advantage. He also came through when the game was on the line, where his teammates could not do the same in the eighth inning, with runners in scoring position. A good night for the bats and a great night to be betting on Betts.
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