In a game that took exactly four hours complete, the Red Sox found themselves alone in first place in the American League East by the end of Wednesday night. It took a while to get there, but at the halfway point of the season in terms of games played, no team in Major League Baseball has more wins than the Red Sox.
Making his 17th start of the season last night, Rick Porcello was certainly not at his best in this one. The righty pitched into the sixth inning for the sixth time in a row, but yielded four runs, all earned, on eight hits and two free passes while striking out five.
Things were going decently smooth for the Red Sox hurler up until his fifth frame of work. With a six run lead to work with, you would figure that Porcello, who is arguably at his best when pitching with a lead, would cruise to his 10th winning decision of the year. Instead, he gave up a solo shot to the first batter he saw in the inning in ex-teammate Ian Kinsler.
That homer gave the Angels just their second run of the series up until that point and cut the Red Sox lead to five runs. An inning later, that lead shrunk some more when, after recording the first out of the inning on three pitches, three straight Angels reached base off of Porcello, with the last one being a three-run jack off the bat of catcher Martin Maldonado. 6-4 game now.
In my mind, this was the turning point of the game. Easy to say I know, but up until that point, it appeared as if the Red Sox had this thing in the bag. They have stomped on the Angels in all of their meetings this season, and it looked like we were headed in that direction once again last night up until that home run.
Porcello’s night would come to an end after he followed up that homer by getting outfielder Michael Hermosillo to ground out to short for the second out of the sixth.
Finishing with 104 pitches (66 strikes), the New Jersey native topped out at 93.4 MPH on his four-seam fastball in the first inning. He’ll miss this upcoming series against the Yankees in New York, but expect Porcello to bounce back in his next time out against the Washington Nationals on Monday.
In relief of Porcello, Heath Hembree got the first call of the Red Sox bullpen. Entering the game with two outs and the bases empty, Hembree retired the only batter he faced on three pitches to end the top half of the sixth.
Joe Kelly was next up for the beginning of the seventh, and he greeted the Angels by allowing four straight batters to reach base after recording the first out of the inning. Two singles from Justin Upton and Albert Pujols put runners on first and third with one out.
Kelly had the opportunity to turn a double play after Luis Valbuena grounded a comebacker right to him, but the Red Sox flamethrower made an awful throw to Xander Bogaerts covering second base, which allowed the ball to roll into the outfield and Justin Upton easily scored from third.
Now with Andrelton Simmons at the plate, who had already collected two hits on the night, Kelly could not sneak a 88 MPH slider by the Angels shortstop, as he drove in Pujols from second on an RBI double to knot this thing up at six runs a piece.
The Red Sox would escape any further damage thanks to two clutch strikeouts to retire the side in the top half of the seventh. The first coming from Kelly against Kole Calhoun for the second out of the inning and the second coming from Matt Barnes against Martin Maldonado for the final out.
Speaking of Barnes, the UCONN product came back out for the eighth inning as well, this time with a two run lead to work with. Unfortunately for him, sandwiched in between the first two outs of the frame were an E5 committed by Rafael Devers and a six pitch walk to Mike Trout.
That put the Angels in an ideal scoring spot, so Alex Cora made the bold decision and turned to his closer in the eighth inning.
In a rare situation, Craig Kimbrel got his night started by loading the bases after throwing a wild pitch and walking Albert Pujols.
The drama ensued into the next at bat with Luis Valbuena at the plate. After getting ahead in the count with a first pitch strike, Kimbrel missed three straight times to move the count to 3-1. Thankfully, the other Red Sox flamethrower rebounded by getting the next call in his favor on what could have been ball four, then got Valbuena swinging on a 98 MPH heater to retire the side.
Coming back out for the ninth, Kimbrel had a much easier go at it, as he retired the side in order to pick up his 23rd save of the season, the first for him since June 14th.
On the other side of things, the Red Sox lineup had their way against another Angels starting pitcher in lefty Andrew Heaney.
Going off for three home runs in the second inning, Eduardo Nunez got the scoring started by blasting his fifth of the season to lead things off.
After Rafael Devers reached first on a single, Sandy Leon drove him in along with himself on his third homer of the year.
Four batters later, with runners on first and third, JD Martinez capped off the home run frenzy by mashing his 25th big fly of the season, making him the first player in Red Sox history to hit as many as 25 home runs before the first of July.
Heading into the third inning with an early six run lead, the bats went quiet for a bit. There was a time in the bottom of the fifth where it looked like another rally was about to take shape when Eduardo Nunez led the inning off on what should have been an infield single.
The original ruling was an out, but after the replay from NESN, it was pretty clear that Albert Pujols missed the tag and the Red Sox challenged it. I don’t know what they saw in Hoboken, but after the review, Nunez was ruled out. So, what’s the point of replay review if the call ends up being wrong AFTER the review? Very confusing.
Anyway, once the Angels stormed back to tie things up in the top of the seventh, the Red Sox lineup responded by tacking on two of their own in the bottom half of the inning.
With two outs, a walk drawn by Eduardo Nunez and back-to back RBI knocks for Rafael Devers and Sandy Leon put some distance between the Red Sox and Angels, and they would not have to look back.
In the ninth, a wild pitch with Mitch Moreland at the plate allowed JD Martinez to score from third after he reached base on a force out. Unfortunately, the Angels pitcher who slid into home trying to get the out, Jake Jewell, took a nasty tumble and landed awkwardly on the right handle. I won’t share the video, but I wish him the best.
On a less somber note, here are some notes from this win:
JD Martinez has already hit more home runs this season (25) than anyone on the Red Sox had in 2017 (Mookie Betts led the team with 24).
The 6-9 hitters in the Red Sox lineup (Nunez, Devers, Leon, and Bradley Jr.) went 7/15 with two home runs and five RBI last night.
With the series already in hand, the Red Sox will look for the sweep later tonight before a huge series against the Yankees this weekend. Brian Johnson gets the start in Boston in place of the injured Steven Wright. It will be his first start since April 2nd when he gave up one run in six innings pitched against the Marlins in Miami. He’ll be matched up against Angels rookie Jaime Barria, who owns a 3.40 ERA in 10 starts this season. First pitch of the finale is scheduled for 7:10 PM ET.