The Red Sox prioritized offense over defense with their starting lineup for Friday’s series opener against the Nationals, and it paid off in a tremendous way.
Boston came out on top over Washington, 4-1, at Nationals Park to kick off the month of October and their final series of the regular season with a crucial.
Eduardo Rodriguez may have very well made his final start for the Sox on Friday, but the impending free-agent-to-be certainly put together a solid outing.
Over five-plus innings of work, the left-hander kept the Nationals off the scoreboard while scattering five hits and three walks to go along with six strikeouts on the night.
After retiring nine of the first 11 batters he faced, Rodriguez ran into some trouble in the bottom of the fourth when he loaded the bases with no outs for the bottom half of Washington’s lineup. The lefty did escape the jam, however, as he got Jordy Mercer to punch out and Carter Kieboom to fly out into foul territory before Andrew Stevenson dribbled a grounder in the direction of second baseman Enrique Hernandez.
The ball left Stevenson’s bat at 75 mph, which forced Hernandez to charge towards the infield grass, grab the ball with his barehand, and make a side-armed toss to an awaiting Bobby Dalbec while going into a head-first dive.
To Dalbec’s credit, the first baseman himself made an athletic play to record the out and keep the potential go-ahead run from scoring going into the fifth — another frame in which Rodriguez put up a zero.
At that point, the Red Sox lineup had been held in check by Rodriguez’s counterpart in Nationals starter Josh Rogers, though that changed when Xander Bogaerts, who was celebrating his 29th birthday on Friday, led off the top of the sixth with a groundball single.
Another base hit from J.D. Martinez put runners at first and second with one out for Hunter Renfroe, who greeted Rogers after a brief mound visit by crushing a towering three-run blast 423 feet to center field.
Renfroe’s 31st home run of the season gave Boston their first lead of the night at 3-0, but Dalbec quickly added on to that by going deep himself off the very next pitch from Rogers — a hanging 79 mph slider down the heart of the plate — moments later.
Dalbec made it a 4-0 contest on his 25th homer of the year. It also allowed Rodriguez to bat for himself (he hit a 101.2 mph groundout) and come back out for the bottom of the sixth, though he did not remain on the mound for long after issuing a leadoff walk to Josh Bell that was followed by a single off the bat of Keibert Ruiz.
That sequence marked the end of the line for Rodriguez, as he promptly got the hook from Red Sox manager Alex Cora in favor of Ryan Brasier.
Brasier continued his impressive run since being recalled from Triple-A Worcester on September 21, as he got Mercer to ground into a force out at third base before fanning both Kieboom and Stevenson to strand the runners he inherited and officially close the book on Rodriguez’s night.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 93 (62 strikes), the 28-year-old ultimately earned his 12th winning decision of the year while lowering his ERA on the season down to 4.77.
Matt Barnes took over for Brasier in the seventh and got the first two outs of the inning before serving up a solo shot to Alcides Escobar, resulting in Cora turning to Darwinzon Hernandez to face off against the left-handed hitting Juan Soto.
Hernandez walked Soto on six pitches and proceeded to yield a hard-hit single to Josh Bell that was corralled in right field by Martinez. Soto attempted to test Martinez’s arm strength by heading towards third base, but Martinez — with the help of a swift tag from Rafael Devers — made him pay by gunning him down there for the final out of the inning.
Martinez’s fourth outfield assist of the season kept the score at 4-1 in favor of Boston. Adam Ottavino, however, made things a bit more interesting in the eighth by surrendering another solo blast to Mercer that cut his side’s lead down to two runs.
Ottavino did get through the eighth, though, and Hansel Robles — despite walking two — followed by slamming the door on the Nationals in the ninth to preserve a 4-2 victory for the Sox as well as notch his 13th save of the year in doing so.
With the win, the Red Sox improve to 90-70 on the season. They maintain a one-game lead over the Blue Jays, who won on Friday, for the second American League Wild Card spot and now trail the Yankees, who lost on Friday, by just one game for the top Wild Card spot.
The Mariners lost to the Angels on Friday night, so they, too, remain one game back of the Red Sox.
Next up: TBD vs. Gray
The Red Sox have yet to name a starter for Saturday afternoon’s contest against the Nationals, who will counter with right-hander Josiah Gray — one of four players they acquired from the Dodgers in the blockbuster trade that sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to Los Angeles back in July.
First pitch Saturday is scheduled for 4:05 p.m. eastern time on NESN.
(Picture of Hunter Renfroe: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)