Rick Porcello delivered an excellent start for a rotation in need of one, Hanley Ramirez
hit crushed another home run, and the Red Sox cruised to a nice, clean 4-1 win on Wednesday night at Fenway.
Top Play by WPA: Hanley Ramirez’s third inning home run (+.221), which gave the Red Sox a 3-1 lead they wouldn’t relinquish, not surprisingly checks in as the most important play of the game by WPA. In fact, no other play was even close in terms of its (positive) effect on WPA, as the next three biggest plays — a Michael Saunders ROE, a Kevin Pillar double, and a Saunders walk — don’t add up to equal Ramirez’s blast combined. More on the home run later.
Bottom Play by WPA: After a solid first inning that included three swing-and-miss strikeouts, it looked like the wheels were about to come off for Rick Porcello in the second. Pillar and Saunders reached via a double and an error, respectively, and then Dalton Pompey was hit by a pitch, loading the bases with no outs. Josh Thole then lined a (should-have-been) base hit over the outstretched glove of Xander Bogaerts to plate one run, but Mookie Betts alertly threw out Saunders (who headed back toward second base on contact) at third. After Pompey swiped third the Blue Jays were left with first and third, one out, with a run already in. That’s when Porcello, on the ninth pitch of a long battle with Ryan Goins, got a ground ball that Dustin Pedroia turned into an unassisted inning-ending double play (-1.07).
Porcello settled in after the second inning scare, retiring the Jays in order in the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth innings. He went seven innings, giving up just two hits and two walks while striking out six. He seemed to pitch up in the zone more often than usual for a sinkerball-first pitcher, and he ended up with as many fly outs (six) as ground outs.
Key Moment: The Ramirez homer:
Sheesh, this guy can really hit a baseball, can’t he? That poor ball innocently left R.A. Dickey’s hand at 78 miles-per-hour, caught way too much of the plate, then left Hanley’s bat at 106 MPH, never to be seen again.
That’s 10 home runs in April for Ramirez, which ties him with fellow Destroyer of Baseballs Nelson Cruz for the league lead. Ramirez also leads the majors in batted ball velocity at 98.56 MPH (based on available data), ahead of Dodgers rookie Joc Pederson and Alex Rodriguez. The long-awaited Fenway return for Hanley was always going to be fun, but this has a chance to turn into something special.
Question: How long until Ramirez hits a ball through the Green Monster?
Trend to Watch: Koji. There’s always going to be some doubt when a 40-year-old reliever with high-eighties heat scuffles, and there was plenty of that present after Koji Uehara blew a save last Saturday, surrendering a walk-off homer to David Lough in Baltimore. And maybe some of it was warranted. After all, he is 40 years old and good relievers don’t last forever and last season, despite a nasty 10-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, he did give up 10 home runs in 64 and one-third innings.
Last night, however, he set the Jays down in order, getting Edwin Encarnacion and Pillar to swing-and-miss at fastballs that registered 88 and 87 on the gun, respectively, before getting Russell Martin to succumb looking at a low-and-in splitter. Here’s the strikeout on Encarnacion:
Coming into last night’s game, Koji had thrown his splitter a staggering 82 percent of the time in 2015. Encarnacion probably wasn’t expecting an 88 MPH four-seamer out over the plate in a 2-2 count, and that’s why he wasn’t able to catch up to it. Koji’s devastating splitter made Encarnacion look bad on that swing, and he didn’t even throw it. He’s still pretty good.
Coming Next: The Red Sox get a day off on Thursday before starting a three-game weekend set against the Yankees, who’ve won seven of their last 10, at Fenway. The 13-9 Yankees sit at first-place in the AL East, but only one game ahead of the Red Sox and Rays, and just three games in front of last-place Toronto. On Friday night Justin Masterson will face off against C.C. Sabathia. Masterson has an ERA on the wrong side of five in four starts this season, but he’s out-pitched that mark with a 2.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 54.5 groundball percentage. Sabathia continues to adjust to life with a sub-nineties fastball, and over his last 12 starts dating back to 2014, he’s given up 14 home runs in 71 and two-thirds innings.
Should be plenty of runs to go around Friday, and for that matter, all weekend.
Photo by Greg. M Cooper/USA Today Sports Images