The last time Brad Ziegler came into a game in the eighth inning with the bases loaded, he was in an Arizona Diamondbacks uniform. This time he was staring them down.
Red Sox manager John Farrell needed him to put out a fire after Matt Barnes walked three Diamondbacks to start the inning. Suddenly the 6-3 lead the Sox had built didn't look nearly as safe.
Ziegler saw the situation unfolding from the bullpen, and tried to check his adrenaline.
"Especially with it being Arizona and it being my first outing against them, I was doing what I could just to stay relaxed, stay calm on the mound," he said.
Coming into the series, Ziegler was hoping the Sox could pick his brain for some of the tendencies he'd picked up after six years in Arizona. He ended up having to lean on that intel himself.
"I don't really have a great scouting report for those guys against submariners," Ziegler said. "We don't really face a lot of them. If anything else, just knowing who likes to be aggressive with runners on base, if there's any certain pitches they really look for in that scenario."
The only hitter Ziegler had his mind set on striking out was the first one he faced, Rickie Weeks Jr., because if he got the first out, a ground ball could get him out of the inning.
"Just try to stay under control and know this is a scenario I can get out of this — I know I can," he said.
Ziegler pulled the plug on the Diamondbacks' threat by striking out Weeks, Yasmany Tomas, and Chris Owings. The shutdown inning built the bridge for Craig Kimbrel to close out the ninth and seal the Sox's 6-3 win Saturday night at Fenway Park.
It was redemption for Ziegler after getting tagged for three runs in a tough-luck loss to the Yankees on Thursday. He threw all 10 of his pitches for strikes, with six swings-and-misses.
"There were pitches that I threw that I was fully hoping, expecting to get a ground ball on those pitches and tonight they either swung and missed or fouled them off," he said.
When Owings waved at an 0-and-2 curveball to end the inning, no one was more relieved than Barnes, who pumped his first from the dugout after being let off the hook.
Barnes pitched a scoreless seventh inning, and since he only used 10 pitches, Farrell stuck with him to start the eighth. But after Michael Bourn worked a seven-pitch walk to lead off, Barnes started to labor. He walked Paul Goldschmidt on five pitches and Jake Lamb on four.
When Ziegler got back to the dugout, Barnes was one of the first to greet him.
"He gave me a big hug," Ziegler said. "You could tell he was pretty tired when he went back out there. He was fighting, grinding. A lot of guys in the bullpen are fatigued. It's August. There isn't a guy on this team that doesn't have some little issue here or there. He was great the inning before and that's what we try to do every night is pick each other up when we need it, and there'll be another time at this point this year where he's going to pick me up and I'll be right there to greet him too."
Farrell expected to have to lean on his bullpen with Clay Buchholz making his first start since July 2. Farrell planned on keeping Buchholz on a fairly short leash, capping his pitch count at around 70.
Buchholz kept the Diamondbacks off the board with three scoreless frames, but ran into trouble in the fourth.
After getting Jean Segura to line out to start the inning, Bourn laced a line drive to center for a single. Buchholz got Goldschmidt into a 0-and-2 count, but let him off the hook by walking him, which ended up being costly.
A double steal put them into scoring position, and Bourn scored on Lamb's ground out to Dustin Pedroia to tie the game at 1.
Weeks followed with a soft flare to right to score Goldschmidt that gave the Diamondbacks a 2-1 lead.
Buchholz got out of the inning, but with 58 pitches under his belt, he was reaching his limit.
Robbie Ross Jr. was already warming when Buchholz took the mound for the fifth. Buchholz gave up a leadoff single to Owings then got Oscar Hernandez to fly out to left before Farrell came from the dugout to take the ball from him after 71 pitches. Owings eventually scored on a single by Bourn that gave the Diamondbacks a two-run lead.
But even if it was short, Buchholz’s 4⅓ innings of work were effective. He worked around three hits and three walks to hold the Diamondbacks to three runs and keep the Sox offense in striking distance.
"Despite a couple of leadoff walks, he was able to induce a couple of ground ball double plays to keep his pitch count somewhat in check," Farrell said. "But felt like if he could give us five innings after pretty exclusively coming out of the bullpen, felt like we were going to get solid work there. We were almost able to get there. He was able to eliminate a big inning. That's the key to his outing tonight."
The Sox responded with a three-run fifth inning to take control of the game.
Sandy Leon sparked things by blasting a 2-and-1 fastball down the right-field line for a homer that cut it to 3-2.
Diamondbacks right fielder Socrates Brito let a routine fly ball by Brock Holt land in between him and second baseman Segura for an error. Andrew Benintendi laced a double to center to score Holt and tie the game. Three batters later, Mookie Betts shot a ground ball to left for a single that scored Benintendi and gave the Sox a 4-3 lead.
Between Leon (2 for 3, home run, two runs), Holt (1 for 4, two-run homer, three runs), and Benintendi (2 for 3, double, RBI, run), the bottom of the order put the lineup on its back.
Farrell said, "That turn in the order was the difference in this one tonight."