As with the rest of this season, the game was not about winning or losing. At least, not for the sensible, realistic Boston Red Sox fan. Yesterday’s game against the Seattle Mariners in Fenway Park was about seeing what the Red Sox have in their pitching staff, their batting lineup, and their defense core. Nothing expressed that better than when starting pitcher Henry Owens, a prospect recently called up a few weeks ago, was left in the game after already giving up seven runs in the first three innings. He battled back, along with their bats, to keep the game close. It was so close that it actually went into extra innings.
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Over 35 200 fans saw Owens baptized by fire in his debut at Fenway. In the first inning, Owens found out that his changeup maybe wasn’t fooling anyone in the majors, as he allowed back-to-back home runs by Seattle’s second baseman Robinson Cano and left fielder Franklin Gutierrez for three runs. After a quick second inning, where the Mariners swung at anything resembling a fastball, Cano hit a liner to left field that scored Ketel Marte and Gutierrez drove another homer over the fence in right center field to clear the bases for a 7-0 lead. Both pitches were fastballs, traveling at roughly 90 mph.
Owens’ counterpart for the Mariners, Vidal Nuno, didn’t have much trouble until that point. It was in the bottom of the third inning that the Red Sox responded, offensively.
Aug 9, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts (2) at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts launched his fourth home run of the season over the Green Monster, to cut the lead to 7-1. It would have been two runs, had Mookie Betts not been picked off by Nuno at first base. It took video replay to show that Betts was, indeed, out.
The Red Sox continued to strike back in the bottom of the fourth inning, as right fielder Rusney Castillo led off with a solo home run on a 1-0 pitch. After Travis Shaw doubled, Nuno uncorked a wild pitch to move him into scoring position. Josh Rutledge hit a sacrifice fly to bring him home.
Designated hitter David Ortiz continued the assault with a sacrifice fly of his own that cashed in Brock Holt. The result was not only a score of 7-4, but it also knocked Nuno from the game before Owens.
That’s right. Owens had continued pitching after the third inning. Alec Shirkey of MLB.com wrote Owens’ claim as to what changed for him as the game progressed:
"“I just told myself, ‘If you’re going to miss, miss down. Even if it’s a ball.’ If I’m throwing a first strike or trying to get a strikeout, just miss down. We did that and it was effective.”"
Not exactly groundbreaking stuff coming from the lips of the prospect, but it’s good information for any young pitcher, anywhere. Combine that with the strategy to use more curveballs and sliders, instead of trying to strike everyone out with a comparatively slow-moving fastball, and you have the entire career of most flame-throwing pitchers in one game.
It usually takes what seems like eons for those pitchers to figure that out to keep their careers going into old age. Owens figured it out in only three innings. He ended up pitching through six innings, being relieved to start the seventh, when Alexi Ogando allowed a lead-off home run by the Mariners’ right fielder Nelson Cruz to extend the lead, again.
Shirkey also reported, “The performance made Owens, just 26 days removed from his 23rd birthday, the youngest Boston pitcher with 10 punchouts in a game since Jon Lester fanned as many against the [Washington] Nationals on June 21, 2006. Factor in that Owens only walked one, and the last to match him at such a young age becomes Roger Clemens in 1984.”
The Red Sox responded, once again, in the bottom of the seventh by a close groundout by Bogaerts to score Betts and a wild pitch by Seattle reliever Fernando Rodney that allowed Brock Holt to score, They tied the game in the bottom of the ninth inning, with another Bogaerts groundout to score Jackie Bradley Jr. and a single by Shaw that scored Holt. If Ortiz was not gunned out at home on the play, the Red Sox would have won the game by one run.
It took until the top of the 12th inning for Seattle to pull away for good. After a couple of solid innings of work, Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow gave up a single to Mike Zunino that scored Austin Jackson from third. Kyle Seager followed that up with a single that scored Brad Miller. Danny Farquhar came in to mop up in the bottom of the inning to keep the Red Sox off the scoreboard and end the night. The final score was 10-8 for the Mariners.
- Holt and Shaw went 3-for-5 at the plate, with Shaw earning an RBI. Shaw is now hitting .318 for his time with the big club.
- Even though he went 0-for-4, catcher Blake Swihart fought hard for two walks. Unfortunately, nobody could cash him home. He’s now hitting .253 for the season.
- Recent call-up Garin Cecchini came in to pinch hit for Rutledge in the eighth inning and played first base for the rest of the game. Shaw was moved to third base and Holt was moved to play at second. Cecchini struck out all three times in his at-bats.
- Bogaerts went 2-for-5 for three RBIs, a walk, and a run scored. However, he also left three men on base when he was out. The same went for Cecchini, Betts, and Bradley, while Castillo left four baserunners. The team went 3-for-10 with runners in scoring position and left a total of 10 on base. Seattle went 5-for-19 and left 12 runners on base.
It would be easy to give a failing grade for this performance, had Owens’ night ended in the third inning. He threw 99 pitches, 63 for strikes, which is good for a rookie pitcher in six innings of work. If he wouldn’t have had so much trouble with Seattle’s bats picking up on his fastball and changeup so quickly, Owens would have been much more successful, as he hit the strikezone at approximately 63%. Any rookie in their Fenway debut, for any team, would have been happy with that percentage. He gave up 10 hits, but he also struck out 10 Mariners and shut them out for the remaining three frames. It took the bullpen, not Owens to give up three more runs, two that proved to be the difference in the game.
As with any game that has so many relief pitchers used, it’s hard to give a grade to the bullpen that had a roller-coaster ride through six innings.
Machi wasn’t even touched in his only inning of work.
The same could not be said for Ogando, who allowed another home run during his time on the mound. It seems more and more that whenever Ogando pitches, at least one batter will send a pitch over the fences. At least he got two strikeouts to keep the damage to a single run.
Breslow pitched two good innings in a tough situation, being in extras and not wanting to be responsible for the loss. However, he couldn’t avoid that pressure in the 12th frame, allowing two earned runs on four hits, a walk, and a strikeout for his third loss of the season.
While Breslow gave up one of those runs as he was on the bump, the other run came off of a single allowed by Robbie Ross Jr.’s only mistake of the night.
Overall, not great but not bad. Maybe they wouldn’t have looked as bad had Owens not allowed seven runs. Then again, the offense brought the victory back within reach until they blew the game.
Honorable mentions for Holt and Shaw, especially considering that they were never in the plans in April to be leaders on this team. However, Bogaerts’ three RBIs were the difference for this game ball. He even earned a walk to help continue the pressure on the Mariners’ pitching staff. His performance has Bogaerts hitting .316 for the season, making him the undisputed ruler of the Red Sox bats. Shaw’s aforementioned batting average is close, but it’s also a small sample-size.
It’s pretty incredible how far Bogaerts has come from his miserable 2014 season, where some fans didn’t even want him on the team, anymore. Time to put the pitchforks away and trade them in for pom-poms, as Bogaerts looks to be here to stay for a long time. He wasn’t an All-Star this season, but maybe he should have been one had Red Sox Nation voted for him more frequently.
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