After taking the first two games of this interleague series against the Atlanta Braves over these last two days, the Red Sox looked to head into an off day with a three-game sweep to end their road trip on a positive note.
Making his seventh start of the season on Wednesday was Hector Velazquez, who entered the afternoon with a lifetime 3.38 ERA in two career relief appearances against Atlanta, both of which have come in 2018.
Tossing four full innings, the right-hander yielded just two runs on five hits and three walks to go along with two strikeouts on the day.
For as lousy as a start Velazquez got off to with the Braves tacking on two runs on a Ronald Acuna leadoff home run and Nick Markakis RBI single before a single out was recorded in the bottom half of the first, it was nice to see him settle down a bit.
After that disastrous first frame, the 29-year old buckled down and did not surrender a single hit to the final 12 Braves he faced in this one, as he worked his way around three walks along the way to a decent outing.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 57 (37 strikes), the Mexico native turned to his slider 33% of the time on Wednesday while topping out at 92.2 MPH with his four-seam fastball, a pitch he only threw seven times, in the fourth inning.
Although his ERA did rise from 3.24 up to 3.30 following this afternoon’s performance, Velazquez will look to build on a solid start to September in his next time out, which should come against the Toronto Blue Jays sometime next week if it’s in a starting capacity. If not, I would not be surprised to see him come out of the bullpen during this upcoming weekend series against the Houston Astros.
In relief of Velazquez, the Red Sox bullpen was responsible for the final five innings of Wednesday afternoon’s contest, and they did not really have an easy go of it.
Drew Pomeranz, who entered the day with a 2.93 ERA since moving to the bullpen earlier last month, was first out of the ‘pen to relieve Velazquez in the bottom of the fifth.
The southpaw came into the game with the score at 2-1 in favor of the Braves. By the time he departed, that one-run lead had inflated all the way up to five after Pomeranz could only record one out on a force out while technically allowing all six hitters he faced to reach base.
That was certainly not great, and the situation got even worse when William Cuevas, who came in for Pomeranz, allowed an inherited runner to score from third on a Tyler Flowers single to make it a 7-1 game.
From that point on, both Cuevas and Bobby Poyner held the Braves scoreless in a combined 2.2 innings of work before Brandon Workman made an appearance to start the eighth.
Just moments after his team rallied from a six-run deficit to even things up at seven runs a piece, Workman allowed the then go-ahead run to score on a two out, pinch hit solo home run from Freddie Freeman.
However demoralizing it was at the time, the Red Sox still made another successful comeback effort, and Workman ended up getting credited with the winning decision, his fourth of the year.
Finally, to wrap this thing up, Craig Kimbrel came in for the save opportunity against his former club with a fresh one-run lead to protect.
Despite a two out walk, the flame throwing closer rebounded by striking out the next and final batter he faced to secure both his 38th save and the team’s 97th win of the season.
On the other side of things, a Red Sox lineup absent of Mookie Betts, JD Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, and Ian Kinsler to begin things was matched up against Braves right-hander Mike Foltynewicz, who entered Wednesday with the fourth lowest ERA (2.80) among qualified starters in the National League.
Foltynewicz, 26, had already faced Boston once before this season, and he dominated with seven innings of one run ball back on May 27th in a 7-1 win for Atlanta.
Similar to that outing more than three months ago, the Braves hurler was at the top of his game again, as he allowed another lone run in another six quality innings of work.
That one run, though, was scored by none other than Brandon Phillips, who in his first game in a Red Sox uniform, had himself quite the day, and it all started with this wild sequence at third to plate Boston’s first run of the contest in the second inning.
Fast forward all the way to the top of the eighth now, with Foltynewicz out and RHP Dan Winkler in for the Braves, it was surprisingly Christian Vazquez who got a huge rally started with a leadoff single.
Three batters and two additional singles later, Blake Swihart trimmed the Red Sox’s deficit down to four runs with a two RBI double lined to center field.
Following a pitching change that saw left-hander Jonny Venters take over for Winkler, Andrew Benintendi picked up right where Swihart left off by lacing another RBI knock to score Jackie Bradley Jr. from third and make it a three-run game.
Steve Pearce, pinch-hitting for Mitch Moreland, made it a two-run game with a sacrifice fly to left field that was deep enough to drive in Swihart from third.
After Brandon Phillips reached first on a throwing error that also allowed Benintendi to advance to third, the Braves turned to their bullpen once again and out came former Oriole Brad Brach to try and get out of a sticky situation.
Greeted first by pinch-hitter Ian Kinsler, Brach could not sneak a 1-0 94 MPH fastball by Kinsler, as the Red Sox second baseman came through with the clutchest hit of the inning, a bases clearing two RBI double to pull his team even.
That would do it for the scoring in the eighth, and after the Braves jumped out to a brand new one-run lead in their half of the inning, it would all come down to the just called up Phillips in the ninth.
Down to their final out with Andrew Benintendi at first and closer AJ Minter on the mound for Atlanta, Phillips smacked the first pitch he saw, a 95 MPH fastball down the middle of the plate, and sent it 432 feet to left field. No doubt about it.
Phillips’ first big league homer since September 26th proved to be the most important hit of the afternoon, as it put the Red Sox up 9-8, which would go on to be your final score in this thrilling series finale.
Some notes from this 9-8 win:
From @SoxNotes: Brandon Phillips is the first player in Red Sox history to hit a go-ahead HR in the 9th inning or later in his debut with the team (source:
Since August 26th, Ian Kinsler is slashing .361/.395/.528 with one home run and eight RBI in his last 10 games.
Finishing a seven-game road trip with a solid 5-2 record, the Red Sox will head into a much deserved off day on Thursday with 97 wins already under their belt.
Following the off day, the team will welcome the defending World Series Champion Houston Astros into town for a three-game weekend series at Fenway Park.
The pitching matchups for that series go as follows:
9/7. RHP Gerrit Cole (13-5, 2.86 ERA) vs. LHP David Price (14-6, 3.60 ERA)
9/8. RHP Charlie Morton (13-3, 3.14 ERA) vs. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (12-3, 3.34 ERA)
9/9. RHP Dallas Keuchel (11-10, 3.46 ERA) vs. RHP Rick Porcello (16-7, 4.20 ERA)
For Price, Friday’s start will be the first in-game action he has seen since taking a line drive comebacker off his left wrist in his last outing against the Miami Marlins on August 29th, where he had to leave after only pitching three innings.
First pitch of the series opener against the ‘Stros is scheduled for 7:10 PM ET on Friday.