Red Sox: Abad’s improbable brilliance keys win over Chicago Cubs

Aug 4, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Fernando Abad (43) throws against the Seattle Mariners during the ninth inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 4, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Fernando Abad (43) throws against the Seattle Mariners during the ninth inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /

Fernando Abad’s signature performance, Kimbrel’s brilliant ninth, and Farrell’s undeterred leadership lead the Red Sox over the 2016 World Champion Cubs.

For those acquainted with my writing, I made it no secret that I vehemently disapproved of the Fernando Abad transaction last July. I was not of the opinion that his acquisition transported us any closer to a title; quite the contrary, I recurrently asserted that his arrival in Boston rendered us further from a title than were he to remain in Minnesota.

I incessantly dissected his dreadful pitching performances, for which he provided many opportunities, while begging and pleading that the organization simply sever bait with the pitcher, admitting that an error was made, and supplant Abad with “Abetter” hurler.

It would not be hyperbole to assert that Abad’s dazzling performance in the eighth inning of yesterday’s 5-4 victory over the Cubs was, unequivocally, his greatest on-field contribution in a Red Sox uniform.

In addition, to be fair, since I frequently disparage Abad when he performs in the manner to which we have all grown accustomed, then, as a journalist, I certainly owe him lofty praise and commendation upon the brilliant display of pitching that he exhibited last night.

As a quick refresher, Heath Hembree unwrapped the top-of-the-eighth inning lobbing three pitches to three different hitters, all of whom left everlasting indentations in the baseball. The Red Sox were extremely fortunate that the first pitch of the inning, a missile off the bat of Chicago catcher Willson Contreras, caught Red Sox third baseman Marco Hernandez, enabling us to record one out.

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Evidently, Hembree had brought his best BP fastballs with him out to the mound and Farrell removed him at precisely the appropriate time. As I pondered who was coming in to relieve Hembree, Farrell strolled calmly out to the mound, with his patented John Wayne walk, and as cool as Hondo, he summoned the ideal man for the job: Fernando Abad??? Wait. What!!

Based on Abad’s usage during the 2017 campaign and his rather pitiable performances in those stints, I cannot determine the more unlikely occurrence: Farrell summoning Abad to pitch in the eighth inning, as the game’s outcome hung in the balance, or that Abad would emerge unscathed, as he seemingly toyed with the World Champions.

Abad started pinch-hitter Matt Szczur off with a hanging, but velocity-deceptive 75-mph offering. Eventually, Abad put Scuzur away with a change-up that darted down and away at which Scuzur meekly offered. I was unaware that Abad had such a pitch in his repertoire, as it evoked memories of Koji.

The “money” decision of the night had arrived: Summon Kimbrel for a four-out save, or see if Abad could duplicate his performance against Kyle Schwarber. My sentiment was to get Kimbrel, as, I would imagine, was echoed by the majority, if not the entirety, of Red Sox Nation.

However, Farrell stared right down the gun barrel, did not flinch, and much like Doc Holliday in Tombstone, uttered two powerful, yet simple words, “Say When.”

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Farrell believed in Abad, and while I cannot provide one single reason to justify such a maneuver, much like Gene Hackman in Crimson Tide, Farrell authoritatively pronounced, “I’m the commander of this ship.”

And on this night, Abad rewarded the faith shown by his skipper by doing the impossible.

I would like to point out the unmitigated improbability of Abad’s performance. In Abad’s five appearances in 2017 prior to Friday, the average score differential between the Red Sox and their opponents at the time of Abad’s entry into said games was 4.6 runs. Suffice it to say, Abad was not exactly pitching in high leverage situations. In fact, Friday night was his first appearance in a save situation in 2017.

Furthermore, Abad had thrown a total of 42 strikes across all of his outings prior to Friday night. Of those 42 strikes, only three were of the “swing-and-miss” variety. In stark contrast, of the twelve pitches thrown by Abad on Friday night, seven were strikes and, of those seven strikes, four were of the “swing-and-miss” variety.

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Lastly, I would be remiss if I failed to mention Kimbrel’s brilliant ninth inning in which he mowed down Bryant, Rizzo, and Russell to give the Sox the victory.