Playing nine innings while presuming the Red Sox’ laundry cart must be exhausted …
1. This reimagined version of baseball that we’re all trying to get used to has forced us, among other things, to redefine what constitutes a quality start. The basic definition is when a starting pitcher works at least six innings and permits three or fewer earned runs.
The bare minimum of that requirement results in a 4.50 ERA, so it’s not as if a quality start always stood as a confirmation of excellence. But in this world in which managers — and their stat-crunching overlords — get itchy to play matchups whenever a starting pitcher is on the verge of facing the order for a third time, a six-inning/three-run start in victory feels satisfying and old-school in all the right ways.
And make no mistake: Eduardo Rodriguez provided all kinds of quality Monday night.
2. Given the stakes and lukewarm expectations about Rodriguez’s ability to deliver, I’d say this was easily E-Rod’s best start of the season.
His regular-season performance wasn’t as subpar as the perception — he led the Red Sox with 13 wins, struck out 185, and made 31 starts — and he did pitch a couple of gems by the current definition, including allowing just one hit in six innings against the A’s on July 2 and shutting out the Yankees through 5⅔ innings two weeks later.
But he came into Game 3 with a 7.02 ERA in his postseason career, and the lefty-mashing Astros had lit him up for 12 runs in 9⅓ innings this season. So what does he do? Oh, nothing, just dominates from the get-go, throwing his fastest pitch of the season in the first inning, then striking out Yordan Alvarez, Carlos Correa, and Kyle Tucker in the second.
By the time he gave up a run, the Sox had a nine-run lead.
3. After E-Rod breezed through those dangerous Astros, the Red Sox’ half of the second inning lasted longer than a Jake Odorizzi warmup session. The Sox scored six runs, forcing Astros starter Jose Urquidy to throw 46 pitches in the frame and 57 overall before he was mercifully pulled with two outs in the inning.
Christian Vazquez plated the first run with a bases-loaded single to right. The second run came across when Jose Altuve booted Christian Arroyo’s grounder (it hit him right in the chest … you know, where the buzzer would go).
Kyle Schwarber broke it open with a Ruthian blast into the right-field seats, the Red Sox’ third grand slam in two games, and do they ever need to find a way to keep that guy. He’s the perfect mix of player, prowess, and personality for this market.
4. John Smoltz’s TV monitor, smashed by a Hunter Renfroe foul ball, is in better shape than the Astros’ starting pitching. As colleague Peter Abraham pointed out, Astros starters have allowed 14 runs (12 earned), 13 hits, and 3 grand slams in 5⅓ innings in the series. Where’s 1986 Mike Scott when you need him?
The Astros will turn to 37-year-old Zack Greinke in Game 4, which sounds like a good thing based on past accomplishments, but the Astros have been reluctant to use him this postseason (he pitched one inning in the ALDS against the White Sox).
Greinke missed time because of COVID-19 and a neck injury in the second half of the season, but he’s as savvy as any pitcher in the big leagues, and he’s capable of giving the Astros a better chance than some of the pitchers they’ve already run out there.
5. Imagine what this offense will do when Xander Bogaerts wakes from his slumber. He’s 3 for 13 in this series without an RBI, which is tough to do considering the Red Sox have scored 25 runs in three games.
Bogaerts went 1 for 5 with three strikeouts Monday night, at times looking like he’s never seen a breaking ball before.
But all signs weren’t bad. Former Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks, an affable and insightful follow on Twitter, pointed out after Bogaerts’s single to center in the second inning that he has the savvy to fight through a slump:
Bogie is such a professional hitter. He knows he’s not seeing it great, so what does he do? Shortens up and stays to the middle of the field. PRO!— Will Middlebrooks (@middlebrooks) October 19, 2021
6. If Fenway crowds were this raucous and relentlessly supportive from the first pitch to the last during the championship run in 2018, I apologize for not remembering it that way. Monday night’s crowd was amazing — the roar when Alex Verdugo worked a walk in the second inning was almost disconcerting — and it reminds me of the united city of 2013, with just a hint of the this-is-really-happening delight from 2004.
It also seems like a younger and more energetic demographic than we are used to, as David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, and the Fox Sports postgame show found out while broadcasting from a set on Jersey Street.
Fox had to mute the audio while A-Rod was talking at one point because the pulsating crowd was aiming a certain chant his way. Since when does Fox care about vile words being heard on its airwaves?
7. So was there any suspense in this one at all? Nope, not really. On his 61st pitch, E-Rod gave up a three-run homer in the fourth inning to the Astros’ Kyle Tucker, but that cut the Sox lead to … a comfortable six at 9-3.
The Red Sox hit three other homers besides Schwarber’s slam: Christian Arroyo (kid is a good player, isn’t he?) lifted a two-run homer over the Monster in the second inning; J.D. Martinez pulverized a two-run shot in the sixth; and Rafael Devers drove in the final run with a solo opposite-field blast in the eighth.
And you thought we were only mentioning grand slams around here now.
8. I suppose there’s a don’t-poke-the-bear aspect to this, but E-Rod shouldn’t feel obliged to apologize to Correa for mimicking the Astros star’s wrist-tapping “it’s my time” celebration. Red Sox manager Alex Cora scolded E-Rod when he saw him do it upon leaving the mound in the sixth inning after retiring Correa on a ground out.
Correa said postgame that he got a kick out of it, and it should have been amusing to us too, the kind of thing that brings a little bit more of a fun edge to the game.
9. I have to note that the Fox broadcast was enhanced by being able to hear home plate umpire Bill Miller call balls and strikes so clearly. He has a casual but commanding way of doing it (“No, the ball’s inside,” or, “No, that one’s low”) that makes him seem trustworthy.
Of course, as we learned around here 17 years ago almost to the day, it’s always good to have a Bill Mueller involved in October, no matter the spelling.