For the first time since 2013, the Red Sox opened a postseason series with a win. But while it’s definitely worth celebrating, last night’s game was also a serious cause for concern.
After J.A. Happ gave up a three-run homer to JD Martinez in the first inning and an additional two runs, the Red Sox had an early, commanding lead over the Yankees. And with Chris Sale striking out three in the first inning and looking for the most part like his dominant self, things were looking good for the Sox.
But of course, the minute Sale exited the game, it all went to hell. That’s not hyperbole; Ryan Brasier gave up a first-pitch RBI single to Luke Voit. That’s partially on Cora; letting a vulnerable bullpen pitcher throw to the hottest hitter in the Yankees lineup was a massive blunder. Brasier and Brandon Workman combined were lucky to get out of the inning. Twice before the night was over, the bullpen had to work its way out of bases-loaded jams. Sandy Leon blocked multiple wild pitches from Brasier and Matt Barnes to save a few runs.
For the second year in a row, Rick Porcello pitched an emergency relief appearance in the series opener, though last year, they were down 8-2 by the time he took the mound. Porcello, who is set to start Game 3 on Monday, had to pitch the first two outs of the 8th before Cora turned to Kimbrel to get the final four outs, and Kimbrel gave up a home run to Aaron Judge in the 9th to make it an uncomfortably close 5-4 before striking out Luke Voit to end the game. When asked about using Porcello in the postgame press conference, Cora admitted that it wasn’t even Plan C, but rather, “Plan C and a half.” Translation: the bullpen is even more vulnerable than we thought.
And it looks like Steven Wright will be replaced on the roster after complaining of knee pain and undergoing an MRI yesterday. MLB’s only active knuckleballer was to be an important part of the bullpen, as he’d maintained a 0.00 ERA between the All-Star break and the final week of September. Maybe Tim Wakefield wants to get out of the booth and into the pen.
At this point, I just want to make it through the ALDS. After two back-to-back eliminations, I want to see this team make progress. Obviously, the World Series is the dream, but I’m realistic: this bullpen will be our undoing. They had the AL-worst 4.84 ERA in September, and without Steven Wright. Pedro Martinez said last night that someone in the pen is going to step up, but can you think of a single guy in there who can?
So yes, we won last night, by the skin of our teeth. But this model of barely fending off the opposing lineup will not be sustainable, especially as the series wears on and our relievers get more worn down. Price and his fellow starters will have to go even deeper into the game than Sale. The offense is going to have to do what they did last night, score early, but they’re also going to have to do what they didn’t do last night, and continue scoring. They never answered any of the Yankees’ four runs.
Deep down, you know I’m right. Chris Sale struck out four of the first six batters he faced; the bullpen needed four pitchers to get six outs. I’d love to experience life like those blissfully ignorant enough to feel okay about this team, but until then, I’ll just be here, telling you the hard truths.
On to Game 2.