The Boston Red Sox & Toronto Blue Jays traded grand slams and knocked the starters out of the game. However, the Red Sox relief pitchers made the difference.
Over 48 000 filled the Rogers Centre in Toronto to see the Blue Jays home opener of 2016 against their Bostonian rivals. They witnessed 2015 American League MVP Josh Donaldson receive his award before the game, they proudly cheered when Donaldson absolutely smashed a grand slam, and they shockingly gasped when their lead evaporated before their eyes with a swing of the bat from Brock Holt.
Red Sox starter Joe Kelly wasn’t pitching too badly, at first. The most trouble that he got into early in the game was a sacrifice fly to center field, smacked by Edwin Encarnacion, that cashed in leadoff hitter Kevin Pillar in the bottom of the first inning.
The same could not be said for Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman, although he worked with a lead all night. Almost every pitch that the StroShow tried throwing was left over the middle of the plate, often high in the strikezone, allowing the Red Sox to chip away with some hits. In the top of the second, Boston took advantage of the situation. After a Travis Shaw double, Holt hit a double of his own to center field, scoring Shaw to tie the game.
Even with groundouts or lineouts, the Red Sox were getting their bats on Stroman’s pitches. In the top of the third, with two men out, future Hall-of-Famer David Ortiz doubled to center and scored Xander Bogaerts. That run gave Ortiz the most RBIs ever hit against the Blue Jays in history, as well as giving the Red Sox a 2-1 lead.
That lead was short-lived, as Kelly completely fell apart in the bottom of the fourth inning.
The Blue Jays hit three straight singles before Darwin Barney, who played all of 2015 in the minor leagues, singled to right field, scoring Michael Saunders. After a coach’s visit to the mound, Kelly proceeded to clip Pillar in the bill of his helmet with a pitch. Pillar was fine, as the ball never struck him directly, but he got a free pass to first base which scored Russell Martin and gave the Blue Jays a 3-2 lead.
The stage was set for the Blue Jays’ MVP. Donaldson took a mighty swing off of a slider, the first pitch that he received in the at-bat, and annihilated it over the left field fence for a grand slam. The Blue Jays fans roared as Donaldson rounded the bases to give Toronto the 7-2 lead and knocked Kelly out of the game.
A five-run lead looked insurmountable for the Red Sox to overcome. The Blue Jays had their ace on the mound and their hitters looked like they could not be denied. That is, until Stroman also fell apart.
After a leadoff double and two walks, with one out in the top of the sixth, Stroman was replaced by Jesse Chavez, who responded by serving up a 93-mph fastball over the middle of the plate to Holt, who smoked the pitch over the right field fence for a grand slam of his own. Suddenly, the lead was only a run. The crowd was almost completely silent in the echoing Rogers Centre.
It didn’t get any easier for the Blue Jays in the top of the seventh inning, either. Drew Storen, who was originally brought in to give closer Roberto Osuna some competition for the role, showed why he lost that battle by allowing two straight singles before being replaced by Brett Cecil. He didn’t fair much better, as Cecil allowed both Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez to single and score a run to take the lead, 8-7.
That’s all that the Red Sox would need to win the game, as their bullpen was fantastic. After Noe Ramirez mopped up Kelly’s mess in the fourth inning, the rest of the relievers carried the team the rest of the way unscathed. By pitching the sixth inning, Matt Barnes picked up the victory. Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara, and Craig Kimbrel each picked up an inning of work as well, shutting down the Blue Jays to seal off the offense, with Kimbrel picking up the save.
- Uncharacteristically, Mookie Betts went 0-for-5 on the night, brutal for being in the leadoff role. His counterpart Pillar went 1-for-3 with an RBI.
- Bogaerts had the most hits by a Red Sox player, going 3-for-5 and was cashed in three times.
- The Red Sox went 4-for-10 with runners in scoring position, leaving six men on base. The Blue Jays went 3-for-9 with eight runners left on base.
- Oddly enough, the two grand slams cancelled each other out, making the game a very tight affair.
- Chris Young replaced Shaw in the top of the seventh inning, but struck out in his only at-bat.
If it wasn’t for the fourth inning, Kelly would have had a much better grade on the night. He completely fell apart in that inning, looking like he was more and more nervous with every Blue Jays player reaching first base. Especially when he looked to be reaching for a little something extra on the ball to strike out Pillar, but ended up hitting him with the pitch. Kelly threw 80 pitches, but only 44 were for strikes, inducing only four groundouts. He faced 20 batters in those four innings, allowing seven earned runs on seven hits, three walks, and four strikeouts. Donaldson’s grand slam may have been actually merciful, as it made for a quick exit instead of dragging out each run slowly out of him.
The exact opposite of Kelly, the entire bullpen looked like a steel curtain. They only allowed two hits and two walks in six innings of work. If there was anyone who could have taken the game ball, it could have been Ramirez who had four strikeouts and bailed out Kelly’s situation in the fourth inning for the Red Sox. However, there’s something to be said for each of the relievers being able to completely shut down possibly the most potent MLB offense this year. For a bullpen that has taken much abuse from the experts and fans, this night was theirs.
Yep, not an ‘A+’, but you will not get an argument from me if you think it should be. The only reason why I didn’t give it to him was because he was only nearly perfect. Holt went 2-for-4 on the night. However, those two hits impacted the game enormously. Holt got the offense going with scoring the first RBI of the night for the team, even though he was batting out of the seventh spot in the lineup. Crushing that grand slam to help put a 6-spot on the Blue Jays in one inning sure helped the cause, as well. Holt is hitting .500 thus far in the early start to the season, earning five RBIs in the game. For those who doubted that he should be the starter in left field, does anyone want to doubt him now?