After kicking off the most important stretch of their season with a 9-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday, the Red Sox narrowly escaped with their second consecutive victory on Tuesday, taking the series from their divisional foes by a final score of 5-4 to improve to 10 games over .500 on the year at 56-46.
Making his 21st start of the season and second against Tampa Bay for Boston was Chris Sale, who came into Tuesday fresh off his best outing in quite some time with six scoreless innings against the Toronto Blue Jays last Thursday.
Tossing six more strong innings this time around, the left-hander surrendered just two earned runs on four hits and three walks to go along with 10 strikeouts on the night.
Both of those two Rays tallies came in their half of the third, when with two outs and Mike Zunino at first following a hard-fought nine-pitch walk, Sale got up 0-2 against his next opponent in Travis d’Arnaud, but could not sneak a third-pitch, 82 MPH slider past the ex-Met, and he deposited it 370 feet to left field to make it a 2-2 game at the time.
Other than that one blip, Sale stranded runners at first and third in the fourth with a five-pitch punchout of Willy Adames, stranded Tommy Pham at second following a two-out double, in the fifth, and managed to convince Sox manager Alex Cora to let him come back out for the sixth.
There, the Florida native fanned Michael Brosseau for the second out of the frame with a runner at first, and it looked as though Cora was about to turn to his bullpen.
Already with a pitch count north of the century mark, Sale told his manager that he needed just three more pitches to complete the inning. And fortunately for Boston, he delivered on that promise, as he got Guillermo Heredia to line out to short on the second pitch of the at-bat, thus retiring the side and ending his evening on a positive note.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 116 (75 strikes) to set a new season-high, the 30-year-old hurler turned to both his four-seam fastball and slider nearly 83% of the time he was on the mound Tuesday, inducing three swings and misses with the four-seamer and 10 with the slider. He also topped out at 97.6 MPH and averaged 95 MPH with that heater while Sandy Leon was behind the plate.
Ultimately improving to 5-9 while lowering his ERA on the season down to 4.00 on the dot, Sale’s latest two starts in July certainly went better than his first two did. He’ll look to keep this recent run of success going in his next time out, which should come against the New York Yankees on Sunday.
In relief of Sale, Matt Barnes entered the seventh with a brand new one-run lead to protect, and he did just that by sitting down the only three Rays he faced in order.
Brandon Workman got the call for the eighth, and he, like Barnes, before him, came in with a new three-run lead to work with.
The 30-year-old got the job done by hurling a scoreless eighth, but when called upon once more for the ninth is where things got a bit sticky.
That being the case because Workman yielded a leadoff single to Matt Duffy, nearly induced a double-play off the bat of Joey Wendle, which instead went for just one out at second, and struck out Nate Lowe on four pitches.
All was looking fine there, but Workman proceeded to allow the next three hitters who came to the plate to reach base, with Adames drawing a seven-pitch walk, Ji-Man Choi ripping an RBI single through the middle part of the infield, and d’Arnaud taking another ball four to load the bases.
All of a sudden, Boston’s three-run cushion had been cut down to two, and in came Marcus Walden with still one out to get in the ninth.
Walden immediately walked Tommy Pham on four straight balls, allowing Adames to score from third to make it a one-run game.
It really looked like the Red Sox were about to pick up their 19th blown save of the season, but Walden did not allow that to happen, as he got Austin Meadows to sharply ground out to Christian Vazquez at first to secure the 5-4 win as well as his second save of 2019.
On the other side of things, the Red Sox lineup was matched up against Rays right-hander Yonny Chirinos, someone who held them scoreless over eight quality innings back on June 7th.
Rafael Devers made sure history did not repeat itself on Tuesday though, as reached on a one-out, first-pitch single in the first and plated his team’s first run by scoring from third on a wild pitch from Chirinos with Andrew Benintendi at the plate.
In that same at-bat, with J.D. Martinez having advanced to second himself on that wild pitch, Benintendi laced an RBI single up the middle off a 3-2, 93 MPH sinker, driving in Martinez to make it a 2-0 contest early on.
Fast forward all the way to the seventh, after the Rays had knotted things up at two, and Cora turned to his bench with left-handed reliever Colin Poche in for Tampa Bay.
Batting in the place of Mitch Moreland, who went 0-for-2 in his return from the injured list Tuesday, Christian Vazquez came through with his side’s clutchest hit of the night, as he led off the seventh with a towering go-ahead, 403-foot solo shot for his 16th home run of the season to put the Sox ahead 3-2.
An inning later, Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and Martinez all reached with no outs to fill the bases for Benintendi against new Rays lefty Adam Kolarek.
On the second pitch he saw from Kolarek, Benintendi grounded into what should have been a crushing double-play, but instead went for just one out at first thanks to a defensive miscue from Brosseau at second.
Devers was able to score on the play as well, making it a 4-2 game.
A strikeout of Michael Chavis and intentional walk of Vazquez brought Jackie Bradley Jr. to the plate, representing the final out of the inning.
In what should have been a tough lefty-on-lefty matchup, Bradley Jr. did not even see one competitive pitch, as he was immediately plunked by Kolarek to bring Bogaerts in from third.
That gave the Red Sox the 5-2 edge, and after a late scare from the Rays in their half of the ninth, 5-4 would go on to be Tuesday’s final score.
Some notes from this win:
From NESN’s Tom Caron:
From The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham:
From MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith:
J.D. Martinez’s last four games: .444 (8-for-18) with one home run, two doubles, and six RBI.
Rafael Devers’ last seven games: .323/.344/.774 with three homers and 11 RBI.
Through eight appearances this month, Matt Barnes has posted an ERA of 0.00 and batting average against of .105 over his last 5 2/3 innings of work.
Next up for the Red Sox, they’ll have the chance to go for the three-game sweep and surpass the Rays in the American League East standings on Wednesday afternoon.
Left-hander David Price is set to get the ball for Boston, while veteran right-hander Charlie Morton will do the same for Tampa Bay.
Coming off his worst outing since that six-run blow up against the Texas Rangers in his last time out against the Baltimore Orioles last Friday, Price brings a 3.61 ERA through 18 starts this season with him into Wednesday’s contest.
In 94 career appearances (92 starts) at Tropicana Field, the former Ray owns a lifetime 2.84 ERA and .221 batting average against over 628 1/3 total innings pitched.
Morton, meanwhile, has had a fantastic first season in Tampa Bay, pitching to the tune of a 2.61 ERA and an All-Star selection through his first 21 starts of 2019.
As it turns out though, the 25-year-old’s worst start of the year in terms of Game Score took place in his last time out against the New York Yankees on July 18th, where he surrendered five earned runs in less than six innings pitched and took the loss.
In six previous starts against the Red Sox, Morton is 4-1 with a 4.13 ERA and .246 batting average against over 32 2/3 total innings of work.
First pitch Wednesday is scheduled for 12:10 PM EDT on NESN. Red Sox going for the sweep.