On the last day before hitting the All-Star break, the Red Sox were looking to end the first half of their season on a positive note by taking three out of four games from the Toronto Blue Jays.
Making his first start for the team since July 3rd, Brian Johnson returned from the disabled list in effective fashion on Sunday afternoon.
In just over four innings pitched, the lefty surrendered two runs on two hits and four walks while tying a season-high in strikeouts with five on the day.
Four walks in that short of an outing usually is not a good sign for a pitcher, but Johnson found himself working his away around them to avoid anything too detrimental.
In fact, the only real costly mistake the Florida native made came in the third inning, when with one out and a runner at second, Johnson left a 0-1, 76 MPH curveball on the inner half of the plate, and Jays outfielder Teoscar Hernandez made him pay for it, as he sent it 349 feet into the Monster seats for a two-run shot, tying the game at two runs a piece.
Following that home run though, Johnson proceeded to retire seven of the final eight batters he faced, and with two outs in the top half of the fifth and Hernandez due up for Toronto, got the hook in favor of Brandon Workman.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 84 (52 strikes), the 27 year-old hurler relied on his four-seam fastball just over 51% of the time on Sunday, and topped out at 92 MPH with it in the first inning.
Since rejoining the Red Sox rotation on June 28th against the Angels, Johnson has yet to go deeper than five innings in three outings, yet the Red Sox are unbeaten in all three of those starts.
In relief of Johnson, as I had previously mentioned, Brandon Workman got the first call out of the Red Sox bullpen. Needing one out to close out the top half of the fifth, Workman struck out the only batter he faced, Hernandez, on seven pitches.
From that point on, despite a more than welcome amount of traffic on the base paths, Tyler Thornburg, Ryan Brasier, and Heath Hembree all tossed a scoreless inning of relief each, setting up Craig Kimbrel for the save opportunity with a three-run lead to work with in the ninth.
Making his last appearance out of the Red Sox bullpen before heading to Washington DC for his seventh All-Star Game, Kimbrel notched his 30th save of the season by pitching a 1-2-3 ninth inning, including two straight punch outs to close this thing out and secure his teams 68th win of the year.
On the other side of things, the Red Sox lineup was matched up against a familiar foe in Blue Jays righty Marcus Stroman.
Never trailing in this game, Xander Bogaerts stayed red-hot and started off the scoring with his 16th home run of the season, a solo shot sent 423 feet over the Monster, to put the Red Sox on the board first.
Four batters later, after JD Martinez drew a seven pitch walk and Mitch Moreland reached first on a fielding error, Brock Holt came through with his first of two RBI knocks on the day, as he scored Martinez from third on a hard-hit bloop single to center field, putting the Red Sox up 2-0 early.
After Toronto came back to tie things back up again in the third, a Sandy Leon leadoff double in the fifth got a mini rally started for the Red Sox.
Following that up with a double of his own of off Stroman, Jackie Bradley Jr. drove in the go-ahead run while also collecting his 31st RBI of the season and giving his team a one run lead they would not have to look back from.
That was followed by a Mookie Betts flyout that allowed Bradley to tag up and advance to third, setting up another prime scoring chance.
Looking for his second RBI of the day, Xander Bogaerts managed to drive in Bradley from third by hitting a comebacker that got a piece of Stroman’s knee. The Blue Jays were able to recover and get the out at first, but the Red Sox had a two-run cushion to work with now.
In the sixth, Brock Holt wrapped up the scoring for the Red Sox with another RBI single, this one just out of the reach of Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis, as Mitch Moreland came in to score from second to put Boston up 5-2.
Some notes from this win:
From @SoxNotes: The Red Sox are 4.5 games ahead of the Yankees, their largest lead of the season.
The Sox have won 12 of their last 13 games and are 17-3 in their last 20.
This is the first time since 2007 that Boston enters the All-Star break with MLB’s best record (68-30, .694).
In the month of July, Xander Bogaerts owns an OPS of 1.154.
Over his last six games, Jackie Bradley Jr. is hitting .333 with five extra-base hits and five RBI.
With the next four days off, the Red Sox will resume their season schedule next Friday, as they open up a six game road trip starting in Detroit.
Starting pitchers for that series have yet to be officially announced by the team yet, but for the Tigers, it will be Matthew Boyd, Mike Fiers, and Michael Fulmer getting the start for the upcoming weekend series.
Before then, let’s just enjoy watching our five All-Stars in the nation’s capital on Tuesday.