Even in victory, it’s hard to get fired up by this combustible bullpen
Outlined against the late Fenway sky, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse rode again Friday night. In dramatic lore they are known as Death, Destruction, Pestilence, and Famine, but those are only aliases. Their real names are Ryan Brasier, Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, and Joe Kelly.
And the Red Sox are going to try to win 10 more playoff games with this motley crew hired by Dave Dombrowski?
Apologies to Grantland Rice for stealing his great lead, but desperate times call for big-time hyperbole.
The Red Sox hung on to beat the Yankees, 5-4, in Game 1 of the AL Division Series, but the overall takeaway was not good. It’s hard to fathom the 108-win Sox getting this done 10 more times in October. The Yankees left 10 runners on base and went 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position.
Dombrowski is a renowned architect of baseball teams, but his fatal flaw always has been bullpen assembly. Dombro’s poor relief corps cost him the 2013 AL Championship Series when his superior Detroit Tigers succumbed to a Boston team because Joaquin Benoit surrendered a grand slam to David Ortiz in the eighth inning of pivotal Game 2. It turned the whole series around.
A Raging Bullpen seemed the only weakness of these 108-win Sox, but Dombro did nothing at the deadline to get help, insisting he was happy with his cluster of torch carriers.
So what happened in the first game of the 2018 postseason? The Sox burst to a 5-0 lead, got 5⅓ good innings from Chris Sale, then hung on for dear life while messrs. Brasier, Workman, Barnes, Rick Porcello, and Craig Kimbrel (Kelly only warmed up, thankfully) came in to finish.
Yes, Rick Porcello. In relief.
Talk about making it up on the fly. In Game 1 of the playoffs, Alex Cora needed his Game 3 starter. What happened to the grand plan of using Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Steven Wright (it was learned after the game that Wright has a sore knee and went for an MRI)?
“We knew where we were going,’’ said Cora. “We had an idea Rick was going to be in the bullpen. It didn’t work out with Ryan. We had to go to Workman and he did a [good] job getting [Gleyber] Torres out. We went to Barnes earlier than expected and that’s why we had to go to Rick . . . One thing I learned last year — to win a World Series it’s gonna take 24-25 guys. To get 27 outs at this stage is very difficult and sometimes you have to go to plan C or plan D.’’
“It’s postseason baseball, you’ve got to be prepared for anything,’’ said Sale.
The Sox’ bullpen problems were well-documented this year. They blew 10 saves after July 31, second most in baseball. They also walked a million guys. Boston’s pen ranked 22nd in baseball in walks per nine innings. So why would it be a surprise that Brasier, Workman, and Barnes all walked guys last night? And how desperate does it look to have Porcello called in when you’ve told us that your pen is just fine?
The playoffs are all about bullpens. Remember Kansas City in 2015? Cleveland in 2016? Those teams got to the World Series on the strength of their bullpens. The 2018 Red Sox have a really good team but it’s hard to imagine staggering through 10 more wins like Friday night’s.
The early part of Game 1 looked like a Red Sox season highlight reel. In the first three innings we saw a laser three-run homer off the bat of J.D. Martinez, a Gold Glove catch by Mookie Betts, a string of shutout innings from Sale, and the Delaware area code (3-0-2) stamped on the left field wall. After falling behind in six consecutive playoff games over the last two years, the Sox finally had an early lead. It was all the stuff that made the CoraMen great in 2018.
Sale’s first pitch was a 95.4-mile-per-hour heater (equal to his fastest pitch of the night), which produced a swing and miss from Andrew McCutchen. That’s what Sox fans were looking for. The lean lefty wound up striking out the side in the inning while the Yankees made him throw 24 pitches. He lasted 5⅓ innings, giving up two runs on five hits and two walks. He threw 93 pitches and handed over a 5-0 lead to Boston’s combustible relief corps.
Brasier was first out of the pen and he allowed both inherited runners to score before handing the ball to Workman. Workman walked Gary Sanchez to load the bases . . . then fanned Torres on a 3-and-2 pitch to preserve the lead. Barnes got out of the seventh after issuing a walk to load the bases, and Porcello came to the rescue in the eighth.
Finally, there was Kimbrel. He got the last out of the eighth, then gave up a leadoff homer to Aaron Judge to start the ninth and make it 5-4. Kimbrel is easily the Sox top reliever but he allowed a career-high seven homers this year and had an unusually high walk ratio. His teams are 0-5 in playoff series.
Sale answered some of the questions in Game 1, but his endurance is still an issue. Will 5⅓ innings be enough in a potential Game 5?
One game down and two, three, maybe four to go.
David Price (gulp) tonight.
Hope we all survive the drama.