PHILADELPHIA — There’s a distinct difference between the current versions of the Red Sox and Phillies.
The Phillies are still trying to punch a ticket to October. The Red Sox, on the other hand, are already thinking toward next season, getting a look at some of the players who might be able to help them down the road. They are not pushing their stars who are hampered by aches and pains.
Still, manager Alex Cora wanted to make it known that his team is still going to compete.
In the Red Sox’ 2-1 win over the Phillies on Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park, competition had its mark all over it.
Andrew Benintendi’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly broke the tie in the ninth inning before Brandon Workman came on to close it in the bottom half, striking out Logan Morrison to register the save.
But it was Eduardo Rodriguez’s 6⅔ innings that set that tone.
In Rodriguez’s previous five starts, he registered a 4-1 record with a 1.11 ERA in 32⅓ innings. He sat on 17 wins for the season, and more importantly, the team was 22-8 when he takes the ball. He’s durable, having thrown five-plus innings in each of his 24 outings since the start of May.
Saturday night’s outing was much of the same for the lefthander. He tied a season-high in strikeouts (12). From the first inning through the sixth, he retired 18 of the 20 batters he faced. Rodriguez drew 16 swinging strikes on his changeup.
“I was feeling really good with everything,” Rodriguez said. “[I’m locating] and know what I want to do with my pitches.”
He allowed just two hits in that six-inning span. One was an infield single in the second. The other probably should have been caught but fell in between Jackie Bradley Jr. and J.D. Martinez for a ground-rule double in the fourth. That didn’t take Rodriguez off his game, however. He struck out the next hitter, Scott Kingery, to end the inning.
“Excellent again,” Cora said regarding Rodriguez. “He threw a lot of breaking balls early in the game. His changeup was great. The fastball. He’s throwing like an ace and we’re very happy with the progress.”
Yet for as good as Rodriguez was, the Phillies had Aaron Nola on the mound who was just as good. Nola had the Red Sox’ number during his August outing at Fenway. He yielded just two runs and struck out seven over seven innings in a 3-2 Phillies’ win.
The Sox didn’t get their first hit off him until the fourth inning, a Xander Bogaerts liner to right field. That was erased shortly after when Bogaerts attempted to steal second but was thrown out by J.T. Realmuto.
The Red Sox’ next hit didn’t come until the sixth inning when Gorkys Hernandez shot a grounder through the right side. Rodriguez put down a sacrifice bunt, moving Hernandez to second, but Marco Hernandez lined out and Bogaerts struck out to end the threat.
“He’s a good pitcher,” Cora said of Nola. “With all due respect to all the pitchers we have faced, he’s been the best one. I love the way he competes. He doesn’t panic. With the offense that we have, he still dominates us.”
The Sox finally got to Nola in the seventh inning. He walked Rafael Devers and Martinez singled up the middle. Christian Vazquez doubled off the left-center field wall, bringing around Devers to give the Red Sox a 1-0 lead.
However, Rodriguez’s hiccup occurred in the seventh, too. Bryce Harper singled to open the bottom half of the frame. Rodriguez then recorded back-to-back strikeouts against Rhys Hoskins and Kingery. But Rodriguez hit Adam Haseley to load the bases and walked Maikel Franco to bring home the tying run.
“It was supposed to be a changeup down and in [to Haseley],” Rodriguez said. “The last pitch to [Franco] I wanted to throw that changeup down the middle and see what happens. I feel like as a pitcher, that’s the worst way to give up a run.”
But the Sox relievers held the score there for the remainder of the game and capitalized in the ninth on Benintendi’s sacrifice fly.
Rodriguez’s ERA is now 3.64. He’s still at 17 wins and will have three more starts to try and get to 20 on the season. But that’s not his concern. After being plagued by injuries, this is the first year he’s been fully healthy. He’s at 185⅓ innings and has another goal in mind.
“I’m thinking of 200 innings, and if 20 wins happens, it happens,” Rodriguez said.