The Brock Holt Show seems to draw the biggest ratings on a nightly basis for the Red Sox, but what’s kept the Red Sox alive is a pitching staff that’s flown under the radar during the horrible 2014 season.
Jon Lester threw 33 pitches in the first inning Tuesday during his 2-1 win over the Minnesota Twins. Still, he managed to last into the seventh inning, where he turned things over to a bullpen that was minus closer Koji Uehara and Andrew Miller. The Red Sox got strong relief from Burke Badenhop, Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, and Edward Mujica, who earned his second save of the season.
“The reason we bought Edward in here was to use him as a secondary closer on days Koji wasn’t available,’’ coach John Farrell said. “He feels more comfortable in the ninth inning; more adrenaline, better stuff.
“Overall, the entire bullpen is throwing strikes and we’re matching up as best we can. They have been very good the first 70 games of the season.”
Offensively, there’s still not much to boast about. The Red Sox are trying everything to get their offense moving again. They designated Grady Sizemore for assignment after the former great center fielder hit just .216 in 205 plate appearances. The Red Sox benched weak-hitting Jackie Bradley Jr. Tuesday night and inserted Holt into center field for the first time in the majors.
The Red Sox are waiting to activate Shane Victorino, who is currently on a rehabilitation assignment with Pawtucket.
Meanwhile, the Holt Show didn’t disappoint again.
He made a rather remarkable play to save left fielder Jonny Gomes, who had lost Brian Dozier’s two-out fly ball in the twilight in the third inning. Holt somehow backed up the play, being in the right place to make a diving grab.
Gomes said, “I lost it. When it’s twilight here, the ball is the same color of the sky. So I told Brock before the game about the twilight and to be coming over to left if there was a ball hit my way. He did a great job backing it up and he made a great play.”
The play buoyed the entire team. It buoyed Holt who started the bottom of the third with a double off the wall, stole third, and scored on Xander Bogaerts’s sacrifice fly for a 2-0 lead.
The Red Sox scored once in the first after Holt reached with a single and scored on Dustin Pedroia’s double to left.
“That was huge,” Lester said of Holt’s great play. “It got us out of the inning clean and it reduced the number of pitches I would have thrown,” Lester said.
Lester, who improved to 8-7 and had his ERA reduced to 3.20 allowing just one run, found a way to reduce his pitch count.
“He somehow found a way to become more efficient,” Farrell said. “He induced more early outs. Not as many foul balls,” Farrell said.
Lester said he really didn’t change his approach after the first inning when “I couldn’t find a way to get the leadoff hitter [Danny Santana] out.” Lester showed some emotion and uttered an expletive to himself.
“I got to be a guy who needs to let my emotions out,” Lester said. “If they linger too long, it hinders me. Just got to let them out. Nothing directed at anyone but myself.”
Lester, like the rest of the team, has noticed what Holt does to the team.
“Seems like Brock has an effect on what’s going on,” Lester said. “Two great at-bats, steals third. Another new position tonight. You would hardly know it’s the first time he played center. I’m sure we’ll see him in catcher’s gear or on the mound sometime this year.’’
The Red Sox, now 33-38, continue to stay within striking distance and have a chance to sweep the Twins Wednesday afternoon at Fenway. The last time the Red Sox swept a series was vs. Tampa Bay, May 30-June 1.
Lester finally gave up a run in the sixth when Santana doubled to left, moved to third on a sacrifice by Dozier, and scored on Joe Mauer’s sinking liner to left that Gomes botched.
Lester minimized the damage, retiring Josh Willingham on a pop to first and Kendrys Morales on a hard ground ball to Stephen Drew at shortstop to end the inning.
Lester got his pitch count up, which brought on Badenhop and Breslow to finish the seventh inning. Badenhop extended his scoreless string to 16 innings retiring the only batter he faced. Breslow got the only batter he faced and stranded a runner at first.
The Red Sox were still not supporting what has been superb pitching by the Red Sox staff. The Red Sox have allowed nine earned runs in 56 innings on this homestand.
The Red Sox started the night ranked third behind Oakland and Seattle with a 3.70 ERA. Their 41 quality starts were tied with Kansas City for second in the American League, trailing only Oakland’s 46. In addition, their 2.80 bullpen ERA was second to Seattle’s (2.70).
So it’s really been about the offense, or lack thereof, a familiar refrain all season.
The Sox offense was still painfully ineffective.
Bogaerts got a positive result with the sacrifice fly, hitting the ball to right, which was a good sign since he’s always a better hitter when he goes to the opposite field.
On the upswing is Drew who started 1 for 17 since being re-signed by the team. He missed time with a strained oblique, but on this homestand he is 5 for 10 and has raised his average to .250.
The game also featured an instant-replay call in the eighth inning when Dustin Pedroia hit a shot high atop the wall. He was thrown out trying to stretch a single when umpires ruled he went out of the baseline to avoid the tag.
The replay showed that the ball hit was not touched by a fan (which would have awarded him a double) and he was also out of the baseline.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.