The Boston Red Sox have bounced back from wasting a dominant performance by ace Chris Sale on MLB Opening Day 2018 against the Tampa Bay Rays and now claim sole possession of first place in the American League East going into tonight’s action.
In an example how professional baseball is a day-to-day roller coaster, and despite all the sports media hype about the New York Yankees, Red Sox starters are dominating, and shortstop Xander Bogaerts is red hot at the plate with a current batting average of 0.471. The Red Sox are still in Florida for a two-game interleague series with the Miami Marlins tonight and tomorrow before returning to Boston for Opening Day at Fenway Park on Thursday.
On MLB Opening Day against the Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, on March 29, the Red Sox took a 4-0 lead into the bottom of the eighth, but imploded after relievers Joe Kelly and Carson Smith were unable to get the job done, leading to a 6-4 comeback win for the home team, and sparking lots of second guessing of rookie manager Alex Cora.
In game two of what turned out to be an exciting, hard-fought four-game set between the Red Sox and Rays, former Ray David Price, who got the win, worked seven innings, allowing just four hits and no runs. Although Price only threw 76 pitches (55 strikes), Cora sent out reliever Matt Barnes – who experienced lots of issues getting the ball over the plate in the 2017 campaign — to pitch the eighth. Barnes pitched a scoreless seventh inning on Opening Day.
Third baseman Rafael Devers, who drove in Bogaerts for the game’s only run in the seventh, rescued Barnes in the eighth by grabbing a line drive from Rays’ pinch hitter Joey Wendle for the second out of the inning after Span had walked. Closer Craig Kimbrel, who Cora decided against using in the Game 1 meltdown, struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth for the 1-0 victory. Rays reliever Chaz Roe was charged with the loss.
In Game 3 on Saturday, Sox starter Rick Porcello faced “bullpen day” pitcher Andrew Kittredge who was followed by Ryan Yarbrough making his major league debut. Porcello pitched 5-1/3 innings for the win, allowing six hits and just one earned run. Kittredge, who was tagged for the loss, was on the mound for 3-1/3 innings, giving up three hits and two runs (one earned). Yarbrough took over in the top of the fourth, allowing four hits and just one run. Two Rays relievers finished out the game for the home team. Bogaerts homered in the second inning, and Rays right fielder Carlos Gomez homered in the eighth off of Sox newcomer Bobby Poyner, thereby breaking his slump.
Kimbrel came on in the ninth and got himself in some trouble by walking the first batter he faced, left fielder Mallex Smith. Pinch hitter C.J. Cron hit into a double play when Smith was doubled off at first, however, and Span popped out to end the game, to preserve a 3-2 victory for the Red Sox and Porcello.
The Rays commemorated their 20-year anniversary in pregame, on-field ceremonies with many of the players from their inaugural 1998 season, including Hall of Famer Wade Boggs, when the team was known as the Devil Rays, on hand for the occasion.
Current Rays players wore throwback uniforms during the game, and the public address announcer used the Devil Rays terminology. The Rays also handed out commemorative seat cushions to everyone in attendance that highlighted the first Opening Day on March 31, 1998, against the Detroit Tigers (although the cushion wording oddly doesn’t make it specifically clear that the souvenir was being distributed on March 31, 2018). A 20th anniversary exhibit is also on display at Tropicana Field adjacent to the Ted Williams Museum.
With starters Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez on the disabled list, and Steven Wright serving a suspension, the Sox handed the ball to Hector Velazquez in Game 4 against Jose Alvarado, ESPN reported.
“For the third game in a row, solid pitching led the Red Sox to a one-run victory in a low-scoring game here Sunday. This time, fill-in starter Hector Velazquez followed the pattern set earlier in the series by Chris Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello. Velazquez gave up one run in 5 2/3 innings before Marcus Walden, Bobby Poyner and Matt Barnes combined to record six outs. Joe Kelly allowed a pair of two-out hits in the ninth before striking out Denard Span. For the first time in the franchise’s 118-year history, Red Sox starting pitchers have allowed one run or fewer in each of the first four games of a season, according to Elias Sports Bureau.”
The entire scoring output consisted of a Brad Miller home run for the Rays in the second off of Velazquez. For the Red Sox, J.D. Martinez (getting a start in left field) singled into Mookie Betts in the fifth, and Devers singled in Jackie Bradley Jr. in the sixth.
Apparently Kimbrel was unavailable to work three consecutive games, so manager Cora inserted Kelly into the game in the ninth, WEEI reported, after Barnes, Poyner, and Walden managed to get through the eighth.
“After contributing to the eighth-inning implosion in the opener, Kelly returned to the mound in the ninth on Sunday and made things dicey, allowing a pair of two-out singles before striking out Denard Span to strand the tying run at third and earn the first save of his career.”
Marcus Walden is a career minor leaguer making his big league debut at the age of 29.
Apart from Bogaerts and Devers, Red Sox hitters have yet to get rolling, however. “The Red Sox are hitting just 0.214 and only one of their two home runs has left the park,” WEEI added in a reference to the Eduardo Nunez inside-the-park home run on Opening Day.
Parenthetically, the regular Boston Red Sox “killer B” outfield of Betts, Bradley, and Andrew Benintendi have abandoned their outfield dance after each win in favor a simple handshake or a modest fist bump, but the players indicated that they will be debuting a replacement celebratory ritual soon.