It certainly was far from easy, but by the time a hectic Friday night came to a close in Boston, the Red Sox had a 1-0 series lead over the New York Yankees in the ALDS. Let’s break down how we got there.
Taking a nice 0.69 ERA in two regular season starts against the Yankees this year, Chris Sale looked to rebound from a rough 2017 postseason campaign with a solid outing on Friday, and that he did.
Pitching into the sixth inning of this one, the left-hander ended up surrendering just two earned runs on five hits and two walks to go along with eight punch outs on the night as well.
Striking out three of the first four Yankee hitters he faced, the only real problems Sale ran into came with one out in the top half of the sixth, when Giancarlo Stanton ripped a single to left field to put runners at first second. That is how the ace’s night would come to a conclusion.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 93 (61 strikes), which is the most he has thrown in a single outing dating back to July 27th, the Florida native threw 33 sliders, 31 four-seam fastballs, 16 changeups, and 13 two-seam fastballs.
With all the talk about how Sale’s fastball velocity took a significant dip over the course of September, an average velocity of 94.6 MPH does not seem all that bad. He also topped out at 96.6 MPH with that same four-seamer in the first inning.
As for when we see Sale take the mound next, it sounds like the 29-year-old hurler is ready to take on any pitching role, whether it be as a starter or out of the bullpen.
Speaking of the bullpen, boy, did Red Sox relievers have themselves a night to forget on Friday. Here’s a quality picture to sum it all up from the sixth inning on.
Ryan Brasier got the first call in relief of Sale, and in his first ever postseason appearance, allowed a pair of inherited runners to score while only recording one out.
That made way for Brandon Workman to enter this contest with runners on first and second and one more out to get in the sixth.
One of the only members left from the 2013 World Series team, Workman worked the bases loaded by walking Gary Sanchez on four straight balls, but escaped any further damage in the frame by fanning Gleyber Torres with a nasty knuckle curve for the third out.
In the seventh, the bases were loaded once again for New York thanks to the combined efforts of Workman and then Matt Barnes, but only one run came of it on a Luke Voit RBI force out. Other than that, Barnes too was able to manuever his away out of a stressful jam.
Surprisingly, Rick Porcello, who should still be able to start Game Three in New York on Monday, made an appearance out of the Boston bullpen for the beginning of the eighth inning, and got the first two outs of the frame in pretty quick order.
However, a cheap two out infield single off the bat of Gleyber Torres was the last action Porcello saw in this one, and that made way for a four-out save opportunity for Craig Kimbrel.
Having not pitched in an eighth inning in months, the Red Sox closer needed six pitches to end the top half of the inning, and he would have a two-run lead to work with in the ninth.
An inning that did not start all that swimmingly with Aaron Judge taking him deep to right field to cut the Red Sox lead to one run, Kimbrel rebounded by punching out the final three Yankee hitters he faced on 13 total pitches to wrap this dramatic series opening 5-4 win up.
On the other side of things, the Red Sox lineup was matched up against Yankees left-hander JA Happ, who they just got to for four runs in his last regular season start at Fenway Park on September 28th.
Starting the scoring right away in this one, a one out single from Andrew Benintendi, followed by a four-pitch walk of Steve Pearce, set up JD Martinez in an opportune scoring spot early.
In his first postseason at bat in a Red Sox uniform, the team leader in home runs (43), squared up on a 2-0 94 MPH fastball on the inner half of the plate from Happ and sent it into the first row of Monster seats in left field.
Just like that, it was a 3-0 game thanks to a JD Martinez homer that had an exit velocity of exactly 107 MPH.
Two innings later, back-to-back base knocks from Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi chased Happ out of his first postseason start in pinstripes, and that opened the doors for Steve Pearce to come through in another prime scoring chance with new reliever Chad Green on the bump for New York.
On the very first pitch he saw from the right-handed Green, Pearce, who slugged .757 against the Yankees over the regular season, lined an RBI single to left field to plate Betts from third and move Benintendi up to second. 4-0.
After JD Martinez advanced Benintendi to third on a fly ball out to right field, Xander Bogaerts took responsibility for the final Red Sox run of the night by driving in Benintendi on an RBI sac fly to right field. That put his team up 5-0, which somehow would be the only scoring they would need to pick up this very important victory.
Looking to go up 2-0 in the series headed into an off day on Sunday, David Price will get the ball for Boston on Saturday.
This season against New York, Price went 0-3 with a 10.44 ERA in four starts, but did look better in his last time out against them at Fenway Park on August 5th, an outing in which the left-hander surrendered just two earned runs on four hits and three walks over six quality innings of work.
Opposite Price will be right-hander Masahiro Tanaka for the Yankees, who finished the 2018 regular season with a 6.52 ERA over the span of two starts at Fenway Park. the Red Sox went 1-1 in those games.
A lot is on the line tonight. First pitch is scheduled for 8:15 PM ET on TBS.