The night started with a question about — and subsequently an answer from — David Price. Yet his dominant start gave way to a disastrous end and a sense of uncertainty about the depth and structure of the Red Sox’ late-innings options.
On a raw, wet night more suitable for late fall than the nearing summer, Cleveland — a team that entered Tuesday having lost seven of eight games and that was saddled with an 0-23 record when trailing after eight innings — amassed a stunning rally in the ninth inning.
Down, 5-2, the Indians plated five runs against Red Sox relievers Ryan Brasier and Travis Lakins to claim a 7-5 victory before the chilled-to-the-core remnants of an announced crowd of 32,984 at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox, armed with a three-run lead, seemed prepared to cruise to their third straight victory. Instead, on a night so cold that it seemed all but impossible to clear the fences, Cleveland’s struggling lineup did just that, not just once but twice.
Roberto Perez destroyed a Brasier fastball, going deep to center for a solo homer to lead off the inning. Two batters later, Greg Allen — who entered the night with an .089 average — did the same, delivering a two-run shot that tied the game and ended Brasier’s night. Brasier has now allowed five homers in 22⅔ innings.
“Really no excuse right there. Three-run lead, should be in and out,” said Brasier. “You guys see it. Obviously I see it. I’ve just got to get back to almost the basics.”
Lakins, the rookie righthander, did little better, loading the bases by hitting a batter and issuing a pair of walks. With one out, Jordan Luplow crunched a Lakins offering to right, where it clanged off the glove of Mookie Betts for the game-winning, two-run double.
There was little hiding the sting of a dreadful defeat — one that wasted a dominant outing in nasty conditions by Price.
As rain intensified steadily after the first pitch, Price worked through a pair of scoreless innings. But with pools forming along the warning track, tarps intruded upon the game for 69 minutes.
The delay did not prove disruptive to the lefthander, who was starting three days after he’d exited his prior outing against the Astros in the first inning due to illness. Price resumed dissecting Cleveland with a balanced pitch mix that featured a heavy dose of two-seam fastballs, cutters, and changeups.
The performance was surgical rather than overwhelming. Price elicited just six swings and misses over his 96 pitches, yet he permitted little hard contact.
The lefthander yielded just three singles, walking one, and striking out six over his six innings of work. His final pitch of the night, a 92-mile-per-hour fastball, dotted the inside corner against Carlos Santana to strand a runner on second, quelling one of the few Cleveland rallies of the game.
The performance continued what has been a dominant stretch for the 33-year-old — albeit one interrupted by both injury (elbow tendinitis) and illness. Over his last seven starts dating to April 14, Price has a 1.77 ERA with 40 strikeouts and eight walks in 35⅔ innings. For the year, he has a 2.83 ERA.
“You start looking at the numbers and he’s having a great season,” said manager Alex Cora.
But for much of the night, the veteran’s strong effort merely matched that of righthander Zach Plesac, a 24-year-old who was making his major league debut. Plesac showed tremendous poise and sharp fastball command through five scoreless innings, including a wriggle free of a first-and-third, one-out jam in the second inning.
Yet in the bottom of the sixth, the rookie stumbled, leaving a full-count changeup up just enough for scorching third baseman Rafael Devers to yank it to right field for a one-out triple. The three-bagger gave Devers eight straight contests with at least one extra-base hit – the longest streak by a Red Sox player age 22 or younger since Ted Williams had a similar eight-game run in 1940, and the longest by a Red Sox of any age since a nine-game run by David Ortiz in 2013.
With Cleveland’s infield in, Xander Bogaerts sent a single back up the middle to break the scoreless tie. After a J.D. Martinez double, Cleveland second baseman Mike Freeman muffed Brock Holt’s hard grounder for a two-run error that gave the Sox a 3-0 lead. That extra margin proved significant in the eighth inning when Marcus Walden allowed a pair of runs while recording just one out.
A pitcher who entered the night as one of the most aggressive strike throwers threw just 9 of 18 pitches for strikes and couldn’t command his arsenal when he did.
“That was the frustrating thing for me, not being able to put my fastball on the plate, hanging sliders. It was just not a good day,” said Walden.
The eroding lead prompted Cora to summon fireman Matt Barnes into the game for a familiar responsibility: Delivering the key outs of the game against the middle of an opponent’s lineup.
In this case, Barnes worked around three-hole hitter Santana with a walk, then struck out Luplow and got an inning-ending ground out by Jose Ramirez to preserve the 3-2 lead. Though the Red Sox tacked on a pair of insurance runs in the eighth, however, the 5-2 advantage proved insufficient on a night when the Red Sox bullpen allowed seven runs over three innings.
That meltdown resulted in the ninth blown save of the year by the Red Sox bullpen, tied for third most by an American League team.
Despite the defeat, however, Cora has no plans to reshape his fluid usage of relievers by designating a single ninth-inning option.
“We feel we’ve done an outstanding job so far, so nothing is going to change right now,” said Cora. “Just a bad night. That’s it.”