NEW YORK — Garrett Richards beat his chest and bellowed toward the Red Sox dugout Tuesday night at Citi Field. There was a lot at play. Reasons behind the emotion.
Richards had just recorded his 10th strikeout. It ended the seventh inning and preserved the Sox’ one-run lead. It proved Alex Cora right. In an era in which managers are discouraged to stick with their starter for the third time through an order, Cora had no doubt that his starter, on this brisk night, could get the job done.
“When you see that stuff moving all over the place on the swing and misses, you’ve got to trust your players and this is a guy that we trust,” Cora said afterward.
There were the two groundouts in that seventh inning followed by the Brandon Nimmo strikeout on a foul tip. It solidified what was Richards’s best start as a member of the Red Sox, a 2-1 Red Sox win backed by Matt Andriese in the eighth and Matt Barnes in the ninth.
Yet if there were any arm in the ballpark that felt as if it no longer carried the weight of expectations for a night, it was Richards’s.
“I haven’t been pitching great as of late,” Richards said. “I’ve been putting in some good work, and we’ve been seeing some improvements and to be able to go out and pitch and see some positive results from the work that we’re putting in is definitely reassuring and helps me move forward with some confidence.”
Richards and pitching coach Dave Bush reconvened after his forgettable outing vs. the Blue Jays last week, when he issued six walks and four runs in just 4⅔ innings.
Bush wanted to help Richards find a repeatable delivery. The two keyed in on building posture throughout his motion, particularly on Richards’s leg lift. It’s what helped lead to better command Tuesdaynight. Richards threw 93 pitches, 70 for strikes, in his seven innings. Richards also threw 75.2 percent strikes, the highest strike rate of any outing of at least 25 pitches in his career.
“That’s kind of the thought process right now is just getting more north-south and trying to find a delivery that’ll help us stay consistent,” Richards said.
North-south, in this case, means pitching up and down in the zone. Richards’s former delivery had much of his balance leaning toward third base, which then caused Richards to throw across his body and lose command. The posture tweak allows Richards to gather over the mound and work in a straight line toward home plate, giving his stuff more of a chance to play.
Richards yielded one run on seven hits, the only blemish a Jeff McNeil solo shot to right field in the second inning. Besides that, Richards was in control throughout. He didn’t walk a batter, and struck out Mets slugger Pete Alonso three times. The last one came in the sixth on a slider Alonso chased in the dirt.
The Sox offense mustered just five hits. Bobby Dalbec, who was without a home run entering the night, tagged southpaw David Peterson for a solo shot in the third inning.
The Red Sox broke the 1-1 tie in the sixth when Kiké Hernández belted a double down the right-field line. A Rafael Devers blooper then found some greenery in shallow left field for a single that was enough for the hustling Hernández to score from second.
The fact that the offense stalled the way it did made Richards’s outing that much more impressive. In essence, this was the Richards the Red Sox envisioned. Throughout the course of his career, advanced metrics have loved Richards while success, in part, has rejected him. Yet Tuesday, the data, the stuff, the delivery, and more importantly, the confidence — which led to the beating of the chest and the bellow — all worked in unison for Richards.
“I know that if I get ahead of guys, I can put guys away,” Richards said. “I don’t care who’s in the box.”