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Last night’s game against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field was a tight affair. Over 20 000 people watched Red Sox starting pitcher Joe Kelly match his pitching arsenal against Mariners starting lefty Roenis Elias, where both lasted 6.1 innings of tied baseball. It wasn’t until the ninth inning when the game was decided.
Both pitchers mowed down their opposition in the early frames, which was not expected, especially from Kelly. He had given up 21 runs in his previous four games, with early difficulty finding the strike zone. Last night, however, Kelly and Elias were on their top games.
It wasn’t until the top of the fourth inning when first blood was drawn, and it was by a forgotten hero of years past who did it. The two-time All-Star and one of the heroes of the 2013 World Series championship run drove a 92-mph fastball over the left field fence to give the Red Sox a 1-0 lead.
Apr 21, 2015; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino (18) at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald said that it’s “easy to forget now, after all the hamstring and quad and knee and hip issues, and after the complicated back surgery last August and the long recovery that followed. But Victorino was one of the Red Sox’ most valuable players” and that he can still make an impact when healthy. Lauber reported Red Sox manager John Farrell saying, “You give him a lot of credit for all he’s been through physically. To see him come back and play an all-around game as he did tonight, he’s a difference-maker when he’s on the field and when he’s healthy.”
The overall play that Farrell described was not only about the home run, but also “the catch, a leaping grab on the run at the lip of the warning track in right field, and the on-target heave back to the infield to double a runner off first base in the seventh,” according to Lauber. That kind of game performance is what kept Farrell’s faith in keeping Victorino around after last season, where the veteran was plagued by those injuries and hit .268 in only 30 games. This season, Victorino went into last night with a .143 batting average in just 15 games, only recently coming back off of the disabled list. He has foregone the idea of switch-hitting, which made him very useful in the past, hitting strictly from the right side of the plate. However, two hits in three at-bats, with a home run to his credit, was a statement that he may be out from under the dark clouds, finally.
The Mariners could not respond until the bottom of the sixth inning, when Logan Morrison grounded out to score Nelson Cruz. The threat was only possible after Kelly had thrown a wild pitch that allowed Cruz to advance to third base. If that throw was never uncorked, Cruz would have only been able to advance to third, and would have been stranded there after Mike Zunino eventually struck out. Kelly could have blanked the Mariners, if it wasn’t for that mistake in location.
The stalemate ended, finally, in the top of the ninth inning. Mariners closer Fernando Rodney was put into the game to start the inning, which didn’t seem to phase Red Sox utility player Brock Holt at all. Holt smacked a double off of Rodney’s 95-mph fastball into left field. Boston’s starting shortstop Xander Bogaerts laid down a sacrifice bunt that moved Holt to third base, setting the scene for catcher Blake Swihart. The young prospect-turned-starter never got that chance, however, as Farrell had Pablo Sandoval, who originally had the night off, pinch hit.
It would be interesting to know how thankful Sandoval was for being put into the game, as the very next pitch, a 97-mph fastball offering, drilled him, sending him to first base.
After the injury delay, the moment became Mookie Betts’ for the taking. In a seven-pitch battle, Betts would not be denied, sending a sacrifice fly to left field. Well, it would have been a sacrifice if it wasn’t for Mariners left fielder Rickie Weeks did not commit the fielding error. Weeks was just put into the game, defensively, after pinch-hitting for Brad Miller in the bottom of the eighth inning. Betts reached first base and Holt scored on the play, to take the lead.
Holt likely could have tagged third base and attempted to score, if Weeks would not have messed up the play. Either way, however, Betts came through, once again, with a timely hit to win the ballgame, 2-1.
- Koji Uehara started the bottom of the ninth inning and was perfect to earn his eighth save of the season.
- Cruz was 3-for-3, with a walk and a run scored, to lead his team on offense. Based on BoSox Injection‘s series preview, it was expected for Cruz to be much of the offense, with very little coming from the rest of the team.
- Even though Kelly didn’t struggle, the game was very close, making his performance all the more important. He finished with allowing an earned run and three walks, while striking out two Mariners, on five hits.
- Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes recorded his second win of the season, as he pitched the eighth inning. He allowed two hits without giving up a run. Tommy Layne pitched the last two outs of the seventh inning.
- Boston got 10 hits and four walks, as a team. Even though they only scored two runs, they put pressure on the Mariners, keeping the threats alive.
- Holt went 2-for-3, with a walk and a run scored. Last night saw the first hit that Holt earned in his last five games.
- Hanley Ramirez went 4-for-5, but could not score an RBI because Betts, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz only combined for one hit, all night.
A run did score and there was a wild pitch. That was all that Kelly was really guilty of, last night. He threw 92 pitches, 59 for strikes, for a 64% strike ratio in just over six innings. He threw around a hundred pitches in his last two outings, both were losses and were thrown in less innings of work. What was very telling was his groundouts, as he had 14 of them, compared to his lone flyout and two strikeouts. Kelly wasn’t trying to force the issue as much, attempting to strike everyone out and be perfect; he allowed the ball to be low and in play for his defense to do the work, which they did. Kelly needs to continue that strategy next time, if he wishes to earn more wins with his efforts.
Someone had to get the game ball for the bullpen. After Kelly did a great job sending Mariners back into the dugout, all three relievers did an excellent job of keeping the game the same score until the bats could come through. Barnes got the win on two hits. Layne had only the bottom two outs of the seventh. Uehara, the 40-year-old, who people gave up on as too elderly for this game after suffering an injury at the end of last season, picked up his eighth save. He did it on 12 pitches that never went faster than 88 mph. In fact, 10 of those pitches never reached more than 81 mph, but it was enough to sit down three straight Mariners to close out the game. With the control on the movement of his splitter, Uehara dominated Seattle, without breaking much of a sweat. Not bad, for an old guy!
With Ramirez and Holt doing well at the plate, you could make the case for them having the game ball. You could make the case for Victorino hitting the home run that made Red Sox Nation take notice that he still has it in him to impact a game. You could argue that Betts’ hit was the only hit he had, all game, and that a leadoff man needs to be more successful if the team has any chance of winning. All of those arguments are valid. Yet, with the game on the line, who was the one man everyone knew was going to come through for Boston? It just seems like every time Mookie is at the plate in this situation, you always have to bet on Betts. You can’t win a game if someone doesn’t get his hit with someone in scoring position. You can get a hit each time that you have an at-bat, but people only remember the one hit that puts the team over the top. It may not be a good long-term strategy, but it sure makes people happy in the ninth inning.
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