Game 126: Cleveland Indians at Red Sox (August 20, 2018)

It blows my mind that it's mid-August and the Red Sox are only now playing the Indians for the first time this season: Cleveland is the only team in the American League that the Red Sox have yet to play. They've got this four game set at Fenway Park and then three games in Cleveland at the end of September and while the Indians aren't as dominant as they were in 2016 or even 2017, they're still a damn good team. Yes, they play in the worst division in baseball and have the worst record of the four AL contenders (Boston, New York, Houston, Cleveland) and also have fewer wins than Oakland, but they're still a dangerous team. There's also been the knock on the Red Sox (said mainly by Yankees fans) that "the Red Sox get all of their wins against bad teams." Never mind that A) they've split with Houston so far, B) they're winning the season series against the Yankees 8-5, and C) the Yankees keep losing to "bad teams" like the Orioles, Rays, and Royals. Still, I've been looking forward to this Indians series because it comes in the midst of a tough stretch of the schedule for the Sox and because it should be a good measuring stick against another legitimate American League contender.

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You couldn't have asked for a better pitching match up in the series opener than 2016 Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello against 2017 winner Corey Kluber. It promised to be a low scoring affair dominated by pitching, but in reality it was a tale of two games. For the first half, Porcello shut down Cleveland while the Sox jumped all over Kluber. Xander Bogaerts' single in the first drove in two runs (Mitch Moreland and JD Martinez) to put the Sox up early. Andrew Benintendi roped a single to left field in the second to push Jackie Bradley across and it was 3-0 Red Sox after two innings. The way Porcello was pitching, it looked like it would be enough, but the proverbial wheels fell off the cart in the fifth when he hung too many pitches over the plate. Melky Cabrera (he's still playing?) hit a solo homer to keep the Indians from being shut out and in the sixth Michael Brantley launched a two run shot to tie the game. (This one was especially frustrating because had Porcello covered first base earlier in the inning on a great Mitch Moreland grab, it would have left no one on base). For some reason, Alex Cora sent Porcello back out for the seventh and it cost them dearly when he gave up another two run blast, this one to Greg Allen. Just like that, Cleveland scored five unanswered runs and took the lead. Boston got one back in the ninth when Xander Bogaerts' dribbler to third base resulted in an infield hit RBI, but it was too little, too late as Ian Kinsler flew out with two on to end the game. It was a game that the Sox absolutely should have won, but it instead resulted in a 5-4 defeat. They caught Kluber on a night where he wasn't at his best, they got to him early, and they still couldn't capitalize on it. Boston outhit Cleveland 13-7 but left eighteen runners stranded on base...far too many against a good team like the Indians. Mookie Betts, JD, Xander, and Bradley all had two hits a apiece and the team was hitting the ball hard, but they couldn't convert. As for Porcello, a night where he looked so dominant at the beginning turned into a real disappointment as an old bugaboo of his, giving up the home run, came back to bite him. His final line of six hits, five runs, six strikeouts, and one walk over seven innings doesn't convey how bipolar his performance was in this game. It certainly wasn't what I was expecting.

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Since there's no crying in baseball, there's nothing to do but brush this one off and move on to the next one (shockingly, it's the first time all season that the Sox have lost two straight games at home). Nathan Eovaldi will get the ball for the Red Sox in game two and he needs to pitch better than he has over his last two starts. A win to start off this series would have been great and put the Indians on their heels; instead the Sox need to make sure they can at least get a split. Winning the second game would be a great way to erase the stink of blowing this opener..let's see how they respond to a little adversity.

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