Red Sox manager Alex Cora spoke confidently about his plans to use the bullpen before Friday night’s playoff opener against the Yankees. He had worked with pitching coach Dana LeVangie to determine which relief pitchers would be most effective against particular segments of the lineup.
“We’re pretty structured,” Cora said. “I think people know where we’re going.”
It all sounded plausible. But once Fenway Park filled up and the Yankees charged back after falling behind, the script was shredded.
But the Sox survived, beating their rivals, 5-4, in Game 1 of the Division Series. Game 2 will be Saturday at 8:15 p.m., with David Price facing Masahiro Tanaka.
Take a deep breath; this is just getting started.
The Sox needed five relievers to get the final 11 outs, Cora getting so desperate that he used scheduled Game 3 starter Rick Porcello in the eighth inning.
In all, the bullpen allowed two runs on five hits, three walks, and two wild pitches. New England will soon be out of fingernails if every playoff game is like this.
“It’s about getting 27 outs, having the lead,” said Cora, who barely passed the postseason litmus test of bullpen management. “And we did it.”
Whether Cora can wring 10 more victories out of what is clearly a bullpen short on reliable arms remains to be seen.
Steven Wright, who was viewed an important piece, was unavailable because of a sore right knee and was taken for an MRI. His status for the rest of the series is uncertain.
The Yankees had it worse, leaving 10 runners on base and getting one hit in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position.
“It’s tough games. You’re going to give up runs,” said Craig Kimbrel, who allowed a home run by Aaron Judge in the ninth inning then finished the game for his first postseason save with the Sox. “We got into some big spots and we were able to get out of [them]. Those big innings, or big spots we got out of were the reason we won the game.”
Their stars showed up, too. J.D. Martinez belted a three-run homer in the first inning and Chris Sale took a three-hit shutout into the sixth inning.
“I’ll take this one,” Sale said. “It’s postseason baseball. You have to be prepared for anything. We obviously have a lot of faith and trust in our guys. This is baseball, though. Anything can be thrown at you.”
Sale struck out eight, five with his slider and two on changeups as he mixed his pitches effectively against a team that knows him well.
Sale was charged with two runs, both scoring after he left the game.
“This was obviously my first postseason start here at Fenway. That’s something I’ll never forget,” Sale said. “That was incredible.”
Yankees starter J.A. Happ faced the Sox four times in the regular season and allowed five earned runs over 22⅔ innings. It was for just this game that the Yankees acquired him from the Toronto Blue Jays in July.
When the Yankees needed him most, Happ allowed five runs and couldn’t get out of the third inning.
Andrew Benintendi singled with one out in the first inning and stole second. It was the 18th stolen base in 19 attempts by the Sox against the Yankees this season.
Happ then pitched carefully to Steve Pearce, walking him on four pitches. Pearce hit third because he came in 11 of 32 with six home runs in his career against Happ.
After walking Pearce, Happ fell behind Martinez 2 and 0. His next pitch was inside but Martinez pulled it to left field, the ball landing in the front row of the Monster seats. The reaction of the sellout crowd shook Fenway Park.
“When I hit it, obviously I was a little bit more pumped up than every other home run I hit during the season,” Martinez said.
Mookie Betts doubled to lead off the third inning and took third on a bunt single by Benintendi, the first of his career.
That was enough for Yankees manager Aaron Boone, who took Happ out after only 44 pitches.
Cora stayed with Pearce against righthander Chad Green and was rewarded with an RBI single.
Benintendi moved to third when Martinez flied out deep to right and scored on a sacrifice fly to right by Xander Bogaerts.
Sale held the 5-0 lead through the fourth and fifth innings and to that point had thrown 83 pitches. He returned for the sixth inning and allowed two hits.
Ryan Brasier allowed both inherited runners to score in his postseason debut. He left a mess for Brandon Workman, who walked Gary Sanchez to load the bases. But Workman struck out Gleyber Torres to leave the bases loaded.
Workman stayed in for the seventh. Andrew McCutchen and Judge singled, and the next contestant was Matt Barnes. He walked Gardner to load the bases with nobody out.
Giancarlo Stanton struck out swinging at a curveball. McCutchen scored when Luke Voit grounded to third base, too slowly for a double play. Barnes then retired Didi Gregorius on a grounder to second.
Porcello, who threw a bullpen session before the game in preparation for his start, started the eighth inning. He got two outs before Torres singled.
Kimbrel finished the inning. After Judge homered leading off the ninth, Kimbrel struck out Gardner, Stanton, and Voit to end a game that lasted 3 hours and 41 minutes.
Stanton was 1 for 5 and stuck out four times.
“We’ve got a little bit of momentum and hopefully we can get Game 2 tomorrow,” Kimbrel said.