The Red Sox changed things up at JetBlue Park on Wednesday night by hosting Team Puerto Rico in an exhibition game ahead of the World Baseball Classic. Playing under the lights and in front of a boisterous crowd of 8,715, Boston defeated Team Puerto Rico by a final score of 9-3.
Matched up against veteran starter Hector Santiago to begin things on Wednesday, the Sox drew first blood in their half of the first inning. After leading off with a single, moving up to second base on a passed ball, and advancing to third on a groundout, Greg Allen easily scored from third on a two-out RBI single off the bat of Raimel Tapia.
On the other side of things, Brandon Walter made his first start and third overall appearance of the spring for Boston. Going up against an opposing lineup that featured big-leaguers such as Francisco Lindor, Enrique Hernandez, Eddie Rosario, Javier Baez, and Christian Vazquez, the left-hander wound up allowing one earned run on one hit and three walks to go along with two strikeouts over 2 1/3 innings of work.
Walter got through the first and second innings without any trouble by retiring the first six batters he faced. Things began to unravel in the third, when he issued a one-out walk to Nelson Velazquez. Martin Maldonado followed by driving in Velazquez all the way from first on a hard-hit double off the faux Green Monster in left field.
The 26-year-old southpaw gave up two more walks to Lindor and Hernandez before getting the hook from Red Sox manager Alex Cora in favor of Robert Kwiatkowski. Kwiatkowski, in turn, escaped the bases-loaded jam by getting Rosario to ground into an inning-ending 6-3 double play.
Christian Koss, who started that twin killing, led off the bottom of the third with a groundball single off new reliever Dominic Hamel. The 25-year-old shortstop promptly moved up to second on an inadvertent pickoff attempt before taking third on a wild pitch. He then gave Boston a 2-1 lead by scoring from third on a Triston Casas groundout.
After Chris Martin and Kaleb Ort combined for two scoreless frames out of the Red Sox bullpen, Casas collected his second RBI of the night in the bottom of the fifth. Jorge Alfaro had led the inning off by drawing a walk off Duane Underwood Jr. He then moved up to second on a Koss single and to third on an Allen force out before Casas drove him in on a sacrifice fly to make it a 3-1 game.
Joely Rodriguez was responsible for the sixth inning. In what was his spring debut, the 31-year-old lefty struck out Baez, Vazquez, and M.J. Melendez in short order. Fellow offseason Wyatt Mills followed suit in the seventh by working his way around a leadoff double and punching out the side as well.
In the latter half of the seventh, the Red Sox lineup erupted for six runs. Enmanuel Valdez drew a leadoff walk off Emilio Pagan and then scored all the way from first on an RBI triple off the bat of the speedy David Hamilton. Marcus Wilson drew a walk himself and stole second base, which put runners at second and third for Daniel Palka, who plated both runners on a two-run double down the left field line.
Palka then came in to score from second on a Ceddanne Rafaela single that was misplayed by third baseman Emmanuel Rivera. Because of Rivera’s throwing error, Rafaela was able to move into scoring position. At that point, Team Puerto Rico had already run through all the pitchers they wanted to use. To accommodate the opposition, Cora had loaned opposing manager Yadier Molina some of his own pitchers in case they were needed.
So, in came minor-leaguer Jake Thompson to replace Pagan. Thompson, a former fourth-round draft pick out of Oregon State in 2017, immediately surrendered a double to Narciso Crook. The pinch-hitting Matthew Lugo followed by drawing a walk, which filled the bases with only one out in the inning.
Nick Sogard drove in Rafaela with a groundout before Valdez drove in Crook with a single moments later. That sequence of events gave the Red Sox a commanding 9-1 lead heading into the eighth. Team Puerto Rico was able to get one of those runs back, though, as Ryan Sherriff yielded a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to Melendez in the top half of the frame.
Another interesting thing took place in the bottom of the eighth. Lugo, who had already registered a plate appearance with the Red Sox, came on as a defensive replacement at third base for Team Puerto Rico. Lugo, who was born in Manati and is the nephew of former All-Star outfielder Carlos Beltran, did not see any balls hit his way while Jorge Lopez struck out the side.
Casey Cobb, meanwhile, took over for Sherriff in the ninth. He served up a leadoff homer to Velazquez before going up against Lugo, who he fanned on four pitches. He then retired Henry Ramos and Johneshwy Fargas to put the finishing touches on a 9-3 victory for Boston.
Kenley Jansen was scheduled to pitch on Wednesday but was scratched from the Red Sox’ plans as a result of feeling under the weather. He will instead throw an inning on the back fields of the Fenway South Complex in Fort Myers on Thursday.
Other worthwhile observations:
To recap, Lugo played for both the Red Sox and Team Puerto Rico on Wednesday night. Between them, the 21-year-old went 0-for-1 with a walk and strikeout.
Koss, on the other hand, went 2-for-2 with a run scored. He also made a nice play in the hole at shortstop to throw out Rivera at first base for the final out of the fourth inning.
With no pitch clock or shift restrictions in place, Wednesday’s contest took two hours and 56 minutes to complete.
Next up: Pivetta vs. Schmidt
Though Wednesday’s win does not count towards their record, the Red Sox are still unbeaten this spring. They will resume Grapefruit League play by taking on the Yankees in Tampa on Thursday afternoon. Nick Pivetta is slated to take the mound for Boston opposite fellow right-hander Clarke Schmidt for New York.
First pitch from George M. Steinbrenner Field is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. eastern time on NESN360 and YES Network.
(Picture of Joely Rodriguez: Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)