By Terry Lyons, Editor in Chief
BOSTON – (Staff Report from Fenway Park) – A full 24 hours before the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees squared off for Game 1 of their American League Divisional Series (ALDS), Sox first-year manager Alex Cora was asked what he expected from his starters in this series, the obvious key to gaining an edge in the ALDS opener with Sox ace Chris Sale on the mound.
Boston’s Chris Sale delivering in ALDS Game-1
“We relied on our starters throughout the season,” said Cora. “They carry us. We felt that on a nightly basis they were going to give us a chance to win, either five innings, six innings, whatever. They were very consistent about it.”
Sale delivered for the Red Sox and put them in a place to win, but his bullpen relief?
Torture by a thousand cuts, even when closer Craig Kimbrel appeared to get the final out of the 8th inning.
Sale threw 93 pitches over 5.1 innings, allowing five hits and two runs while striking out eight Yankees batters.
“You know, A.C. (Alex Cora) said something to me the other night that really stuck,” said Sale after the game. “That was, ‘win the first pitch, and then win every pitch after that.’ I threw every pitch tonight like he was going to take the ball out of my hand after the pitch I threw. You have to go up there and do what you have to do to get a win.”
Sale had pitched well and did exactly what Cora had hoped for a day earlier, but when the left-hander allowed an Aaron Judge single to lead off the 6th, allowed Brett Gardner on base via a fielder’s choice ground ball, then coughed up a hard line drive single to Giancarlo Stanton, Cora was forced to go to the ‘pen.
The relief effort was not pretty and it showed the uncertainty facing the Red Sox this postseason, despite their franchise regular season record, 108-win dream of a season. The bullpen leaves the club vulnerable.
Cora tapped Ryan Braiser for a third of an inning (one hit, one base-on-balls), then Brandon Workman for another third (two hits, one base-on-balls, one run). In the 7th, it was Matt Barnes’ turn, and he went a full inning but threw a wild pitch and allowed NY left fielder Andrew McCutchen to score on a Luke Voit ground ball force out.
The five-man relief crew, including the previously announced Game 3 starter, Rick Porcello, turned a 5-0 lead into a 5-3 nail-biter as the game entered the 9th inning. Kimbrel was primed for his closing act with a third of an inning under his belt, and he faced Judge, the 6-foot-7, 282-pound Yankee slugger, who led off the 9th inning for NY.
Kimbrel threw his 1-1 curve to Judge. Poof – 5-4.
NY’s Aaron Judge homered in the 9th
Yes, Judge deposited a 382-foot drive into the right field bullpen, over the outstretched hands of Boston right-fielder Mookie Betts, and the pressure was on.
Kimbrel regained his composure and closed the game by striking out the side, sending Gardner, Stanton and Voit down consecutively. Kimbrel threw 22 pitches (14 strikes) and retired the Yankees, securing the 5-4 victory with a four-out save, only his second career postseason save.
Boston jumped to their 5-0 lead over the first three innings of the game. J.D. Martinez hit a 2-0, 94 mph J.A. Happ fastball into the Green Monster seats over Fenway Park’s left field wall, scoring left-fielder Andrew Benintendi (2-for-4, 2 runs) and first baseman Steve Pearce (1-for-3, RBI). Martinez’ three-run homer was his 4th career HR in eight career postseason games.
Boston added two additional runs in the 3rd inning when Pearce singled in Betts and shortstop Xander Bogaerts hit a sacrifice fly to score Benintendi. The five run lead was enough to secure the victory which put Boston ahead 1-0 in the ALDS series against New York.
J.A. Happ took the loss for New York, allowing five runs on four hits and a walk.
GAME NOTES: Boston is scheduled to throw David Price (16-7, 3.58 ERA) against New York’s Masahiro Tanaka (12-6, 3.75 ERA) in tomorrow’s Game 2, here at Fenway. First pitch is scheduled for 8:15 pm with the game on TBS. … The Red Sox went 25-14 in the regular season in one-run games. … When Boston scores five-plus runs in the postseason, they’ve won 23 of their last 26 playoff games, including their last eight in a row. … Boston scored more runs tonight than in any of their six postseason losses in 2016-17. … New York has now lost eight of their 11 games at Fenway park this season. … The Yankees are living by the long ball and have hit three home runs in their two postseason games, including their Wild Card win over Oakland on Wednesday. … Yankees 1B Luke Voit is batting .370 (10-for-27) with five HR and 10 RBI against the Red Sox this year (seven games). … NY OF Aaron Hicks went 1-for-1 with a walk but exited the game due to right hamstring tightness. Over his last dozen games, Hicks is batting .333 (13-for-39) with nine runs, three 2Bs, a triple and three HRs. … After Game 1, Alex Cora mentioned that Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright underwent an MRI exam and the results are expected before Game 2. Cora said Wright had complained of knee pain. … Digital Sports Desk will be back on-site at Fenway Park for Game 2.