NEW YORK — The Red Sox starters, with the exception of David Price’s hideous Game 2 outing, did their jobs in this American League Division Series. Gone are the days when playoff starters would pitch seven to nine innings. If they give you five to seven innings and keep you in the game, that’s all you can ask for in 2018.
And that’s what Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, and, finally, Rick Porcello did against the Yankees by virtue of a nail-biting, 4-3 win Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium in which Craig Kimbrel sent everyone in Red Sox Nation for a manicure.
Sale, who pitched a scoreless eighth inning to help preserve a 4-1 lead, gave up two runs in 5⅓ innings in Game 1. Eovaldi allowed one run over seven innings in Game 3. And Porcello allowed one run in five innings in Game 4. In a perfect world manager Alex Cora would have loved an extra inning from Sale and Porcello, but because the Sox bullpen recovered from poor outings in Games 1 and 2 it was able to piece together enough good pitching to pull this out against a prolific Yankees offense.
But we should pay tribute to Porcello for the series-clinching win, his first postseason victory in 13 appearances and five starts. Porcello went from 17 losses in 2017 to 17 wins in 2018. He was pushed back to Game 4 after he contributed two outs in the eighth inning of Game 1 and sacrificed his scheduled Game 3 start so Eovaldi, the better choice, could pitch Game 3.
Porcello was one of the first players to leave the dugout after a replay of Gleyber Torres’s game-ending groundout was confirmed. Porcello wanted to be one of the first to congratulate Kimbrel. In the end, his start and Kimbrel’s finish enabled the Sox to move on to the ALCS to play Houston. Game 1 is Saturday night at Fenway Park.
“Rick was outstanding and the bullpen did an outstanding job,” Cora said. “He wasn’t the usual Craig Kimbrel, but he got three outs.”
The Sox were encouraged by Sale, who regained his velocity at 95 to 97 m.p.h. in his start, while Eovaldi was throwing in the high 90s and mixing up all of his pitches. Porcello threw a very efficient game, the Yankees able to scratch out only a run in the fifth on a Brett Gardner sacrifice fly. After that, Cora felt he had a rested enough bullpen to make it work.
“One of their goals was to keep us in the ballpark, and they were able to do it,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.
Porcello doesn’t get enough credit for all he does and for the respect teammates have for him. If there’s a pitching version of the well-prepared J.D. Martinez, that would be Porcello. He takes his craft seriously. While he doesn’t have Sale’s overpowering stuff and isn’t the controversial figure that is Price, he is a pitcher worthy of respect and Tuesday night he went out and proved that in the clincher.
Porcello won the American League Cy Young Award in 2016. Last year was a nightmare. As hard as this guy works, he couldn’t seem to solve the mystery of where his stuff had gone. It seemed everything he threw was hit. This season he couldn’t beat the Blue Jays. If you could erase his four starts against the Jays, in which he went 1-2 with a 9.15 ERA, Porcello’s numbers would have looked much better. He might have even reached the 20-win plateau again.
As good as he looked in relief in Game 1, Porcello did a good job Tuesday night of keeping the big Yankees hitters off-balance with a nice mixture of two-seamers, curveballs, and four-seamers. He worked at a good pace and never allowed the Yankees to get too comfortable. His velocity was at 90 to 94 m.p.h. Porcello had thrown only 65 pitches (48 for strikes) after five innings, but after struggling in the fifth inning Cora decided not to push the envelope.
After struggling for most of the season, Red Sox relievers had some success in the ALDS. Cora went with Matt Barnes in the sixth, Ryan Brasier in the seventh, and Sale in the eighth. The trio pitched three hitless innings with two strikeouts and no walks.
Kimbrel struggled through a 28-pitch inning but eventually finished it off after giving up two runs on one hit, two walks, and a hit batter.
He retired Torres on a slow roller with the winning run at second base.
Porcello, who grew up in New Jersey, wanted to beat the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, a team he grew up watching as a kid. Porcello looked to the crowd after the game to acknowledge a small group of family members. He badly wanted to go beyond five innings, but Cora said he pretty much had the rest of the game planned out.
Moving on against Houston, we’ll see if Cora gives Price, who doesn’t have to worry about the Yankees anymore, a chance to right his postseason. Price was 1-0 with a 3.65 ERA in two starts this season against the Astros. He struck out 17 in 12⅓ innings.
With a rejuvenated Price added to the mix, the Red Sox could go into the ALCS in good shape with their starters.