Red Sox bullpen comes up big to finish grueling West Coast swing
PHOENIX — Sometimes, you win with stars. And sometimes, you win with the kitchen sink.
As the 2019 Red Sox completed an arduous 11-game, 11-day trip through the west, a supporting cast salvaged the finale and ensured a relaxed, 2,295-mile trip home with an unlikely 1-0 victory over the Diamondbacks in Arizona.
The team’s third win may loom as one of the most unexpected of the year, a day when the team got its best start of the year from a bullpen member, when critical middle innings were provided by a pitcher who one day earlier had been in Syracuse, and when — for the first time in the 47-year era of the designated hitter — the Red Sox had two relief pitchers step to the plate for at-bats.
Before the game, any of those elements might have suggested another loss. Instead, the unusual deployment played a role in what was easily the most satisfying Red Sox win of the young season.
“Today,” said Matt Barnes, who contributed two scoreless innings, “was a big win for us. I’m not going to say it was needed, but it was a win we really wanted to have.”
The Red Sox had to work for it, as through six innings, their lineup did next to nothing against Diamondbacks starter Merrill Kelly. But in the top of the seventh , Mitch Moreland — who’d delivered the team’s first victory of the year with a ninth-inning, three-run homer — slammed a first-pitch cutter from Kelly to deep right field.
Moreland wasn’t sure if he’d gotten enough, and clenched his teeth as he watched right fielder Adam Jones track it to the fence and make a well-timed leap. As he rounded second base, Moreland couldn’t tell whether the ball had gotten over the fence.
“I’ve seen [Jones] do it all too many times over the years, so I’m happy he didn’t do it again right there,” said Moreland. “I knew it was going to be close. Thankfully it was out of reach.”
After the struggles of the vaunted rotation, a surprising cast of arms ensured Moreland’s homer would not go for naught.
Hector Velazquez — who got Sunday’s start when lefthander Brian Johnson was pressed into duty during Friday’s blowout — became the first Red Sox starter of the year to put up three zeroes to open a game.
He showed fantastic command of his full pitch mix, working at the top of the strike zone with a four-seam fastball (92-94 miles per hour), at the bottom with a two-seamer, and off the edges with his slider and changeup. He allowed just one hit, striking out three without a walk.
“Amazing,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora beamed.
“My mentality with each pitch is to give more than 100 percent,” Velazquez said via translator Daveson Perez. “I knew I wasn’t going to be pitching a lot of innings today, but every pitch felt good.”
Yet Velazquez was spent by the conclusion of those three innings, forcing the Red Sox to lean on their bullpen in a scoreless tie — a task made more challenging by the absence of a DH in a National League park.
Brandon Workman followed with a dominant fourth inning; opponents are 0 for 15 with one walk and seven strikeouts against the righthander. Then came Marcus Walden, told just over two weeks ago he’d open the year in Triple A Pawtucket, but with a caveat.
“[Cora] said obviously you’re going to be a big part of this team,” said Walden. “I knew I was going to be up here eventually.”
Walden gave up a double to the first batter he faced, Christian Walker, but worked around it when, with one out and Walker on third, he got a grounder to shortstop with the infield in. Xander Bogaerts threw out Walker at home, wiping out the most significant Arizona threat.
Cora knew that he wanted to use Walden for multiple innings, but he’d need the reliever to hit (or rather walk to home plate with a ceremonial bat in hand) in the top of the sixth. Walden struck out looking, then pitched a perfect sixth.
Barnes followed with two overpowering innings — a multi-inning effort that, like Walden’s, required his first professional at-bat. Though Barnes was disappointed to be forbidden from swinging in his first at-bat in 11 years, the rush of his role made up for it.
“When they’re high-leverage situations, it’s physically impossible to not have the adrenaline or the energy to be focused because the game is constantly on the line,” said Barnes. “I truly enjoy it.”
Ryan Brasier worked around a two-out double to record his second save with a scoreless ninth, and the weary, relieved Red Sox finally could head home — armed with a disappointing 3-8 record, but mindful that 2-9 would have felt much worse.
“We love winning,” said Cora. “[But] we’re not going to get caught up on, if you win it’s a relief and if you lose it’s life and death. We don’t play that here in this clubhouse. We know where we’re going. We know how good we are. We know that we have to get better. . . . We learned a lot on this road trip but now that it’s over, hopefully when we talk a few months from now, we’ll say, you know what? It was a learning experience. It made us better.”