There’s just no way to sugar coat this one.
When you’re in a best-of-five playoff series, there’s no such thing as a loss that isn’t bad, and Thursday night’s 5-4 defeat to the Cleveland Indians was no exception.
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Rick Porcello was at his worst when his team needed his best, or at a bare minimum, an average performance. The AL Cy Young hopeful lasted 4.1 innings, allowing six hits, and five, count-em, five earned runs, three of which scored on solo home runs.
Porcello hadn’t given up three home runs since an August 3rd start in Seattle. He hadn’t given up five earned runs since a June 2nd start in Baltimore and the last time he pitched less than five innings was on July 1st, 2015 in Toronto.
Porcello only threw 72 pitches which will of course make the John Farrell haters question pulling him so early, but in reality the Indians were hitting him rather hard and oh by the way, the Red Sox got 3.2 innings of scoreless relief out of their much maligned bullpen.
The bullpen wasn’t the problem, nor was the manager. This one is squarely on the players who started the game.
It was sort of a 2016 low-light reel for the offense. They weren’t shutout by the Indians, but the best offense in the majors had a few weak points.
During the regular season the Red Sox had a tendency to run into outs on the base paths. It took them less than one full inning of postseason play for the Red Sox to run themselves into an out. Yes, it was a close play, but the simple reality is that the Red Sox have made too many outs on the base paths, and that was not an ideal way to end a first inning rally.
The Red Sox scored a ton of runs this season, but they also stranded their fair share of runners. They left too many men on base last night.
In the fourth the Red Sox got a one-out double from Hanley Ramirez but back-to-back strikeouts by Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr left Ramirez stranded. In the fifth the Red Sox chased Indians starter Trevor Bauer and had runners on 1st and 2nd with two outs, but Cleveland reliever Andrew Miller got David Ortiz to strikeout on five pitches to end the threat.
This is where Terry Francona has received a ton of credit. He managed to shed the seemingly intractable bullpen formula which suggests that your closer has to work the ninth, and only in a save situation, and your set-up guy has to work the eighth, and so on and so forth.
Francona took a different and strangely logical view point. He decided that he’d use arguably his best relief pitcher to get out of the game’s biggest jam (to that point.) Francona does deserve credit for that, but he also has the luxury of a deep bullpen that features more options than most managers have at their disposal.
That’s why even after using Miller for two innings and letting him throw 40 pitches, he was still able to bring in Bryan Shaw and then Cody Allen to close things out. The strategy also almost backfired. Shaw allowed a solo home run to Brock Holt to lead off the top of the eighth. That cut Cleveland’s lead to 5-4 and forced Francona to bring in closer Cody Allen with only one out.
Allen also had to dodge some trouble, he gave up hits in both the eighth and ninth innings, but both times the Red Sox left the game-tying run on base.
Oh and as had been mentioned repeatedly all season, the Red Sox have had problems in one-run games. Boston was 20-24 in one-run games this season, Cleveland was 28-21, and the better one-run team won on Thursday night.
The one possible bright spot for the Red Sox?
With both Allen and Miller throwing 40 pitches, they’re availability and durability could be limited on Friday afternoon. That would be news to Miller who told Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.
“I’m not gonna miss any of these games,” Miller said. “We find a way to show up and play.”
Miller might not be needed though. Corey Kluber gets the ball Friday. Kluber can be very tough, and he pitched into the seventh inning in 15 of his final 16 regular season starts.
In a best of five series, losing Game 1 is by no means fatal, but it sure puts a lot of pressure on the losing team to win Game 2.