There was tension at Fenway Park on Saturday night well before the Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays took the field, enough that both managers were summoned to a meeting with the umpires and told to keep their teams under control.
The Sox and Rays had cleared their benches Friday night after Tampa Bay starter David Price twice hit Red Sox players with pitches. If another pitcher acted vengefully, the next incident seemed sure to be more than pushing and shoving.
For 25-year-old righthander Rubby De La Rosa, who was called up from the minors to start the game for the Red Sox, it was a potentially difficult situation. But David Ortiz took De La Rosa aside and defused the situation.
“David told me whatever happened last night, don’t let that affect how you pitch,” De La Rosa said. “It felt good. I was OK. I was able to focus on the game.”
De La Rosa went out and pitched one of the best games of his career, throwing seven shutout innings as the Sox beat the Rays, 7-1, for their sixth consecutive win.
In his first major league start since 2011 when he was with the Dodgers, De La Rosa allowed four hits and struck out eight without a walk.
“Given the environment, given what we went through [Friday] night, he was outstanding,” manager John Farrell said.
De La Rosa is the first Red Sox pitcher to strike out eight without allowing a run or walk in his first start for the team since Calvin Schiraldi in 1987.
Catcher A.J. Pierzynski heard talk about how good De La Rosa could be and caught him a little during spring training. But he never expected the performance he saw against the Rays.
“To see him do it on this stage in this situation, especially after [Friday] night after everything that went down, that was impressive,” Pierzynski said.
De La Rosa threw 72 of his 105 pitches for strikes and hit 99 miles per hour with his fastball. He retired 11 straight at one point and 15 of the last 17 batters he faced.
Twenty-eight of his pitches were at 95 or faster. De La Rosa also used a changeup that produced 10 swing-and-misses.
“I felt great with my changeup. The changeup was good. Tonight it was my best pitch,” he said.
The Rays advanced only two runners beyond first base against De La Rosa. Desmond Jennings and Kevin Kiermaier had singles with two outs in the second inning before third baseman Brock Holt made a diving play to take a hit away from Sean Rodriguez and save a run.
Ben Zobrist doubled with two outs in the third inning but Matt Joyce grounded out. Beyond that, De La Rosa locked the Rays down in his first game filling in for the injured Clay Buchholz.
“That’s a shot in the arm for the whole team,” backup catcher David Ross said. “That was high-quality stuff.”
Holt and Jackie Bradley Jr. homered for the Red Sox, part of an 11-hit-attack. Jonathan Herrera, starting at second base for an injured Dustin Pedroia, was 3 for 4 with an RBI.
The Red Sox had lost 10 straight before their current win streak. The last team to accomplish something similar was the 2004 Baltimore Orioles. They lost 12 in a row before winning six straight from Aug. 29 to Sept. 4.
The Orioles finished 23 games out of first that season. But the Red Sox are only six games out in a division that remains a jumble outside of the first-place Toronto Blue Jays.
The Rays, who have lost five straight, had bigger problems than settling old scores as the Red Sox battered their pitchers.
Jake Odorizzi (2-5) lasted only 3⅓ innings, allowing five runs on six hits. Cesar Ramos also was hit hard.
The Sox went up, 3-0, in the third inning. Herrera, starting only his third game of the month, led off with a single before Holt crunched a fastball into the Red Sox bullpen for his first home run in 203 major league at-bats.
Xander Bogaerts drew a walk. After Pierzynski singled to extend his hit streak to 10 games, a wild pitch moved the runners over. Mike Carp’s sacrifice fly to center field made it 3-0.
The Sox manufactured a run in the fourth inning. Grady Sizemore led off with a single and stole second. Bradley grounded to the right side, moving Sizemore to third base,
Herrera then put down a well-place squeeze bunt and Sizemore scored. Pierzynski had an RBI single later in the inning.
In the fifth inning, Sizemore singled and Bradley launched a sinker into the Red Sox bullpen for his first home run of the season and the fourth of his career.
The Rays ended the shutout in the eighth inning against Alex Wilson. Kiermaier drove a ball to deep left-center and Bradley tried to make a leaping catch. The ball deflected off the wall and hit him in the face.
Bradley went down and Kiermaier had an inside-the-park home run. Bradley got on his feet before the trainer could reach him and stayed in the game.
Bradley came away with a bloody nose and was angry that he missed the ball.
“He makes a heck of an effort,” Farrell said.
Bradley is 6 of his last 19 with four RBIs and is contributing to the offense after a season-long struggle at the plate.
“Things are starting to click. I’m feeling good at the plate, seeing pitches and putting together some quality at-bats,” he said.