After Chris Sale put on a shutdown affair, the Boston Red Sox bullpen would choke away an Opening Day victory.
Ah, Opening Day, one of the best days of the year, especially if you are a Boston Red Sox fan.
As the seasons change and we get ready for Spring, every team played on Opening Day this season. The Red Sox headed down the road from Fort Myers to St. Petersburg for a four-game series with the Rays.
Chris Sale took the mound against Chris Archer for his second Opening Day start in his Red Sox career. Putting in another solid start before handing the bullpen a four-run lead, Sale was the highlight of the game up until the eighth inning when the bullpen gave away the game as the Red Sox fell to the Rays 6-4 in the season opener.
Here are my takeaways from a loss that will sting for awhile:
Nunez´ Mad Dash
Believe it or not, the Boston Red Sox first home run of the year didn’t even make it over the fence.
In the top of the second inning, with the Sox leading 1-0 and Xander Bogaert’s standing on second base, Eduardo Nunez stepped to the plate. He hit a ball in the gap that got by both Rays outfielders Denard Span and Kevin Kiermaeir.
This gave Nunez the opportunity to showcase his speed as he turned on the jets rounding second. Kiermaeir would rise to get the ball as Nunez headed for third. Kiermaeir’s throw would hit the mound as Nunez would slide in for the inside the park home run.
Following a year when the Red Sox lacked the big-time home run power, this is more than a work of Irony.
Nunez was one of the highlights of the second half of the Sox season, despite being 30, always plays at his highest level and brings an energy to the team that they were lacking previously.
Chris Sale is still the man
If there was one good thing to take from the game it’s that Chris Sale is still amazing.
In 6 scoreless innings of work, Sale only allowed 1 hit and struck out 9 Rays batters. He threw 95 pitches, 54 of which were strikes. The Sox continue to get exactly what they paid for and more from Chris Sale.
In all, Sale is guy who’s gonna go out there and give you 6-7 innings of consistent pitching while fanning guys left and right. Definitely a bonafide true ace.
The one constant on the staff will be Sale. He does have a down game here, but typically those are the games in which he gets caught up in the pitch count and his tempo is off.
Those kind of starts will happen, but more often than not, you’ll see the Chris Sale we saw Thursday afternoon.
In leading the league in strikeouts a year ago with 308, it looks like he’ll at least come close to replicating those same numbers again in 2018.
The Bullpen implodes
Take everything I said about great pitching, and forget it.
That’s the one word I would use to describe the Sox bullpen yesterday.
We were gifted with 7 scoreless innings with Sale pitching. Then, just like that, the bullpen goes and spoils a four-run lead.
In a game where it was almost completely signed and sealed in the win column. The infamous 8th inning began as the Boston Red Sox turned to Joe Kelly following a strong inning by Matt Barnes.
Kelly would walk the leadoff man Daniel Robertson before catching Rob Refsynder looking for the strikeout. Matt Duffy would come up and in a 2-2 count, would slap a double into the gap to put the Rays on the board. Instant reaction is, Kelly will get through it, we can stomach the one run.
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This is where the entire game blew up.
Kelly would walk back-to-back batters in Kevin Kiermaier and Carlos Gomez to bring up Brad Miller. At this point, Alex Cora had seen enough from Kelly, and with the bases loaded he called on Carson Smith to try to keep the game at bay. This didn’t happen, not in the slightest. Smith would walk Brad Miller to drive a run in and keep the bases loaded for Wilson Ramos.
Carson would get Ramos to fan on a pitch for the strikeout to bring up Denard Span in the same bases loaded territory. With a 3-2 count, Span would slap a flat slider from Smith past Mookie Betts to the Wall for a bases clearing triple, putting the Rays up 5-4. Alex Cora would again visit the mound to try and help his guy get the final out. Adeiny Hechavarria would come to the plate and single in Span to give the Rays even more of a cushion.
It was like the Boston Red Sox bullpen was allergic to the strike zone. After Chris Sale and Matt Barnes combined for 3 walks through 7 innings, the bullpen gave up 4 in the 8th inning alone. Spoiling what was a stellar outing for Chris Sale.
It raises major question marks as far as the bullpen, like, where is Tyler Thornburg? Is Carson Smith still capable? And is this gonna be an issue going forward?
It’s only one game, but in one that seems almost certain to be a victory, you have to finish strong.
The Red Sox will stay in St. Petersburg for game two of four against the Rays.
Taking the mound in the Red Sox in the second game of the season will be the lefty David Price. The Rays will counter with young lefty Blake Snell.
The Boston Red Sox look to rebound from the opening day loss and get the first number in the win column tonight.