In a matter of three pitches, Joe Kelly was somehow already down a run.
Adam Eaton bounced one of his fastballs off the Green Monster for a leadoff triple, Tyler Saladino shot another one down the right-field line that ran up the warning track for another triple.
It had been four years since a major league game started off with back-to-back triples, the White Sox hadn’t done it since 1954, and it was as clear a sign as any that Kelly’s start Monday night was running away from him in a hurry.
“Those guys came out swinging the bat right away,” Kelly said. “Obviously that was their gameplan, so I tried to make adjustments from there.”
By the time the first inning was over, Kelly had given up four runs.
Between falling into an early hole, having Mike Napoli get ejected in the bottom of the first, and the Red Sox offense trying to swing its way out of a ditch while the bullpen door constantly swung open for a stream relievers, there were too many flash fires for Red Sox manager John Farrell to keep track of in a 10-8 loss to the White Sox.
“That’s obviously not the way we were drawing it up,” said Red Sox catcher Ryan Hanigan. “But when we get into those games, guys gotta try and step up and do their job. It was kind of a flip-flop momentum kind of game. We made some mistakes both defensively and with our pitching.”
A night after exploding for 11 runs and 20 hits in a win over the Tigers, the Sox got into another slugfest in the opener of a four-game set with the White Sox. But their pitching constantly found ways to undermine their hot lineup.
Led by Eaton, who went 3 for 6 with two RBIs and fell a home run shy of the cycle, the White Sox banged out a season-high nine extra-base hits.
The Red Sox offense had to clean up the mess Kelly made for himself in an ugly first.
After the pair of triples, Melky Cabrera blasted a 1-and-0 curveball off the Monster for a RBI double that put the White Sox up 2.
Kelly was clearly trying to find the reins on his fastball, but he couldn’t do it against Jose Abreu. He went up and in with three fastballs. The last one clipped Abreu in the left wrist.
“I tried to pound fastballs in to him,” Kelly said. “Don’t want to let that guy get extended. He’s a big power hitter and I always try to jam guys like that and just one got away from me.”
It got worse when Avisail Garcia singled to left to load the bases. Kelly faced five batters before recording an out.
“They didn’t let him breathe,” Hanigan said. “They smelled it. They were aggressive. They were getting pitches they could barrel.”
Kelly didn’t help himself by fumbling a comebacker from J.B. Shuck, allowing another run to come around. When Abreu scored on a double play grounder by Alexei Ramirez, it gave the White Sox a four-run inning.
David Ortiz started the process of digging the Sox out of the ditch, blasting a two-run homer into the bleacher seats in center field in the bottom of the first to cut the lead in half.
After Rusney Castillo worked a walk and Hanigan stroked a double with one out in the second, Jemile Weeks pushed a run across with a grounder and Mookie Betts shot a double off the Wall to even the score.
But the quick comeback came with a price. Napoli struck out to end the inning and, out of frustration with the strike calls by umpire Toby Basner, he threw his helmet down. It bounced off the plate and hit Basner in the leg, and Basner immediately ejected Napoli. Farrell sprinted from the dugout to defend Napoli, who was ejected last month against the Rays for leaving his bat on the field after another inning-ending strikeout, but it didn’t change anything.
“There was no intent on the helmet hitting him,” Farrell said. “Equipment hits an umpire, it’s their immediate prerogative to eject a player. We needed Nap to stay in the game and unfortunately the helmet hits him, he’s ejected.
“There’s always a line of composure that’s got to be held and unfortunately the helmet bounced up and hit him.”
Kelly, who had thrown a 1-2-3 second, ran into trouble again in the third when Cabrera tagged him for a leadoff double and Abreu drove him in with a line drive single to right. Kelly was done after 3⅓ innings, his second-shortest start of the season.
“He couldn’t get into any kind of rhythm and establish the strike zone,” Farrell said. “He came out and threw pitches up in the strike zone, so the ability to get the ball down, get the ball in the middle of the plate, he didn’t get a chance to early on.
Kelly was traded from St. Louis to Boston a year ago this week, and in his 26 starts since, he has a 5.16 ERA. He said he never saw these kind of struggles coming.
“You don’t really predict that, but it is what it is right now,” Kelly said. “It’s something that I’ve just got to keep fighting. I’m not going to give up out there and I’m just going to try to keep pitching.”
The Sox took the lead in the fourth when Betts shot a ground ball to the hole on the left side of the infield for an RBI single and Hanigan scored on an error by Saladino at third.
But the Sox couldn’t keep Chicago off the scoreboard. Craig Breslow cleaned things up for Kelly in the fourth, getting a fly ball from Eaton and a ground ball from Saladino. But he left the bases loaded with one out for Alexi Ogando in the fifth and the White Sox were able to tie the game at 6 when Ogando’s first-pitch slider to Ramirez got by Hanigan.
“We’re showing signs early in that ballgame. I felt like if we had any ability to put up a couple of consecutive zeroes there was a real good possibility we could be on the right side of things as we got deeper into the ballgame. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out.”
By the sixth inning, the Sox were on their fourth pitcher, Robbie Ross Jr., who gave up three runs on five hits over the next two innings. Farrell kept looking for a pitcher who could muzzle Chicago’s lineup — the only two relievers who weren’t called on were Justin Masterson and Koji Uehara — but never found one.
“The bottom line in this game tonight is we couldn’t put up enough zeroes,” Farrell said. “I felt like the way we were swinging the bat, we were going to score some runs. This is a team that’s come in here with a lot of confidence, they’ve been swinging the bat well of late.
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.