A few quick thoughts on the return of Red Sox-Yankees postseason baseball, right after I hand out some high fives to Will, Chuckie, Morgan, and Billy…

What a way to kick things off, huh? The Sox jumped out early, and managed to hang on for a 5-4 win to take Game 1 at Fenway Park. Boston hit the ground running, thanks to a 3-run laser over the Monster from JD Martinez:

From there, the Sox seemed like they were on cruise control, extending the lead to 5-0 after plating a couple more runs in the third. Everything was working in their favor early. Guys were getting on base. Alleged “Red Sox Killer” JA Happ was bounced after 2+ innings. Chris Sale was dealing.

Then, Alex Cora decided to take his ace out in the top of the 6th, and it all (almost) went to hell.

I completely understand the logic behind pulling Sale. He wasn’t right all September, and the plan all season long has been to conserve the lanky lefty as much as possible. Sale also had allowed two hits already that inning, and had thrown 93 pitches (his highest total since July 27th).

On the flip side, Sale was nearly untouchable while he was in the game. His much scrutinized fastball velocity returned to the 94-96 mph range, after sitting in the low 90s during his final regular season start. His slider was in peak form, both in terms of break and placement:

Sale was charged with 2 runs in 5.1 innings, while striking out 8. All things considered, it was a great bounce back performance from his last postseason start. However, it wasn’t enough for Cora to trust him to work out of a 6th inning jam.

The Yankees immediately stormed back with Sale out, while Ryan Brasier and Brandon Workman took turns spiking curves 8 feet in front of home plate. To Workman’s credit, he did manage to stop the sixth inning bleeding with a BALLSY 3-2 hook to Gleyber Torres with the bases juiced.

Cora stuck with Workman to start the 7th, and he promptly gave up a pair of singles to Andrew McCutchen and Aaron Judge. Enter Matt Barnes, who then walked Brett Gardner to load the bases.

Barnes eventually was able to slither out of trouble, allowing only one run to score on a fielder’s choice.

All of this is to say that things were so indescribably shaky that Cora felt the need to bring in former AL Cy Young Award winner and scheduled Game 3 starter Rick Porcello to bridge the gap to Craig Kimbrel. It worked – Porcello recorded two 8th inning outs on only 15 pitches to set up a 4-out save for Kimbrel. However, it was a move that reeked of desperation. Perhaps a more seasoned manager would not have pressed the Porcello panic button in Game 1. Either way, it goes to show that this Sox bullpen is clearly going to be a problem going forward this postseason.

Kimbrel was able to shut the door on this one, despite giving up a leadoff home run to Judge in the 9th. Outside of that, Kimbrel had his good stuff, including this obscene knuckle-curve to hand Giancarlo Stanton his Golden Sombrero:

Kimbrel mopped up Luke Voit with a 98 mph heater to end it, and give the Sox a white-knuckle playoff win. Phew.

Other Observations

  • David Price is on the hill tonight for the Sox. I feel better about him in a Game 2 at home than an elimination game in Yankee Stadium. That isn’t saying much.
  • The Red Sox bullpen wasn’t great (le duh). The bottom of the lineup, however, was even worse. Nunez, Kinsler, Leon and Bradley went a combined 1-13. Granted, the Sox have been top-heavy all season long. But it’s hard to feel great about their chances this month if the bottom half is going to be a collective zero.
  • It’s hard to fear Stanton after a 4 K effort at the plate. I am, however, terrified of Voit and Judge. Just wanted to update where my head is at.
  • Sandy Leon was the real MVP last night. He made block after block while the Red Sox middle relievers played “Who Can Bounce A Baseball Best?”. On a night where Ron Darling described Gary Sanchez as an “excellent” defensive catcher, it was nice to see Leon step up and show why he’s in the lineup.
  • All that being said, HUGE win in Game 1, to (somewhat) silence the doubters that this 108-win team would get steamrolled by their second-place rivals. We’re on to Game 2.