With knuckleballer Steven Wright on the disabled list with left knee inflammation, the challenge for Red Sox manager Alex Cora on Thursday night was sewing together a start in the series finale against the Angels.
The two arms he had lined up to fill the void — lefthander Brian Johnson and righthander Hector Velazquez — both had some success in starting roles earlier in the season, but neither of them had pitched more than four innings in a game since April.
For his part, Johnson didn't change his routine. He warmed up the same way he would have if he were making a relief appearance.
"Actually I started the game in the bullpen as if I was coming in from the bullpen," he said. "So I didn't throw as many [pitches] . . . I kind of took my bullpen approach."
Johnson went the first four innings, holding the Angels to one run on three hits with a pair of strikeouts. Velazquez followed with two scoreless innings and three strikeouts as the Sox took a 4-2 victory to finish off a sweep of the six-game season series.
"We just trust the guys," Cora said. "We know that they can come in in the middle of the game, they can come in in high-leverage situations, or they can start the game. We felt that it was a good matchup for BJ. You look at the numbers, it's a reverse-split team. We went with the lefty, and he did a good job."
Johnson said he and Velazquez knew from the start of the season that they could be called on in different situations.
"I think Hector and I both knew our role going into the year was going to be bouncing back and forth between spot starts and being out of the bullpen," Johnson said. "We kind of joke about it and we're ready whenever we're supposed to be in here. Whatever it takes to help the team."
The Sox also got lifts from Jackie Bradley Jr., who had a two-run homer; Rafael Devers, who had a solo shot; and Christian Vazquez, who went 2 for 3 with a run scored.
Johnson had retired 10 of the 13 batters he faced before Andrelton Simmons stung him for a solo homer in the fourth inning. Johnson left a 1-and-0 curveball hanging on the outside part of the plate and Simmons swatted it off the AAA sign above the Monster for his fifth homer of the season, giving the Angels a 1-0 lead.
Up to that point, the only offense the Sox had was a double by Xander Bogaerts in the second inning, a single by Mookie Betts in the third, and a walk by Bogaerts in the fourth.
They got on the board in the bottom of the fifth when Devers got a hold of a 2-and-0 fastball and shot it into the bleachers in straightaway center field for a tying solo homer.
Devers has 10 RBIs in his past 10 games and 14 in his past 17. In the season series, he went 11 for 25 with three homers, two doubles, and nine RBIs.
The Sox outscored the Angels, 45-10, in their first five meetings. But they had to grind out the runs they got Thursday.
In the sixth inning, they had a bases-loaded situation. Angels starter Jaime Barria gave up a one-out walk to J.D. Martinez. Jose Alvarez came on and gave up a double to Mitch Moreland. Alvarez then intentionally walked Bogaerts to juice the bases for Brock Holt.
Holt worked a seven-pitch walk that scored Martinez, but that's all the Sox squeezed out of the scoring opportunity. Alvarez got Devers to ground back to the mound to start an inning-ending 1-2-3 double play.
But just when it looked like the Angels had finally found a way to hush the Sox bats, Bradley belted a two-run homer in the seventh that opened up the lead to 4-1.
After getting ahead, 0 and 2, reliever Noe Ramirez left a two-seamer up in the zone. Bradley blasted it into the bleachers beyond the Angels bullpen for his sixth homer of the season. After struggling most of the year, Bradley's gotten into a groove at the plate, going 8 for 14 over his past four games.
His homer gave the Sox 19 against the Angels this season, the most by any team in baseball history in a season series of six games or fewer.
Brandon Workman threw a scoreless seventh inning. Joe Kelly came on in the eighth and things got hairy. After he gave up an RBI single to Albert Pujols, Kelly got a lift from Andrew Benintendi in left field.
With one out and runners on first and second, David Fletcher sent a fly ball screaming at the Green Monster. Benintendi tracked it down, leaping at the scoreboard to make the grab and hold the runners in place.
"When he hit it, I thought he didn't get it, honestly," Cora said. "The reaction was great and it gave us a chance. We were getting to a point there where we were going to give Joe probably one [more] hitter, then [pitching coach] Dana [LeVangie] told me the lefty's coming, so that's a good matchup for him. Dana, he gave me the recommendation there and we did. We got the guy out. But that play was a game-changer."
Kelly got Luis Valbuena to fly to center to end the inning.
Craig Kimbrel slammed the door in the ninth to pick up his 24th save of the season, striking out Mike Trout to end the game.
"We got to where we wanted to get," Cora said. "Work did a good job, Joe battled through it in the eighth, and Kimbrel closed it down."
The Sox have won four straight as they head to New York for a weekend series against the Yankees.
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Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.