Game 154: Red Sox at Cleveland Indians (September 21, 2018)

With the Red Sox clinching the AL East on Thursday night, it rendered the remaining nine games of the season relatively meaningless. They're guaranteed a postseason spot and home field advantage tin at least the ALDS, so other than trying to break the franchise record for wins (105 by the 1912 Red Sox) and clinch the best record in the American League, they really have nothing to play for. Even so, I want to see them play to win these games for two reasons: first, because I'm a super competitive person and I want to win them all, and second because I'm a big believer in positive momentum heading into the postseason. That's the case in any sport and something I harped on in 2016 and 2017 as well. In both of those years, the Sox were played their worst baseball to finish those seasons and it carried over into the playoffs. I'm not saying I want the Sox to go 9-0 to end 2018 (although I wouldn't mind that at all), but I'd at least like to see them get into a groove where the pitching and hitting are near peak performance heading into the ALDS.

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Chris Sale made his third start since coming off the DL and was again looking at a gradual increase in his work load. Opposite him on the mound was Trevor Bauer and the dangerous Indians lineup. Alex Cora sat the Killer B's with Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley all getting the night off for some rest. That didn't seem to matter when the Sox chased Bauer from the game by the third inning (although I'm sure Terry Francona was managing as hard as Cora was, meaning not very). Sam Travis hit his first career major league homer on a ball that hit the top of the right field fence and bounced over to give the Sox a 1-0 lead. That was quickly erased when Sale gave up a solo blast to Josh Donaldson in the following inning. (As an eerie aside, NESN had literally put a graphic saying that Donaldson had the most career homers off of Sale seconds before the pitch. They jinxed him!). The Indians added some more in the inning off of my personal boogeyman when it comes to relievers...can you guess who? If you said "Heath Hembree," you're correct. He served up a fat pitch that Yan Gomes smacked into center field for a two-run homer to give Cleveland a 3-1 lead. Bobby Poyner gave up a sacrifice fly in the fifth to Jose Ramirez that brought in Francisco Lindor and increased the Sox deficit to 4-1. At that point, it seemed like it was time to pack it in; after all, what was the point in trying too hard to win when there was nothing at stake (and especially with mostly bench players playing)? It still felt that way when Rafael Devers hit his 18th home run of the season to cut it to 4-2 in the top of the sixth. However, in the seventh inning the Sox finally got to Indians pitcher Shane Bieber (who had been cruising along for the most part since coming into the game in the third). With two outs Travis doubled with two men on to tie the game. That was followed by a swinging bunt from Tzu-Wei Lin that hit Bieber's foot and allowed Travis to score which gave the Sox the lead. Devers then singled to drive in Lin and increased the lead to two runs. Boston loaded the bases for Steve Pearce and seemed poised to blow the game open but weren't able to capitalize. Cleveland got one back in the seventh off of Drew Pomeranz when what should have been a routine fly ball for out number three fell in front of Travis to allow Michael Brantley to score. I don't blame Travis for that miscue, though...the wind was blowing in hard from Lake Erie and that ball ended up getting blown from the warning track in about halfway to third base. Still, it hurt in that it cut the lead to 6-5. The Sox bullpen got out of a huge jam in the eighth when they managed to keep Cleveland off the board after they put runners on second and third with no outs...even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, as the old adage goes. Lin capped off the night by joining Sam Travis in hitting his first career major league homer to give Boston a bit of a cushion in the ninth. Craig Kimbrel slammed the door shut on the win and earned his 42nd save of the season as the Sox prevailed 7-5. No Killer B's, no problem!

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The win tied the 1912 Red Sox for the most in franchise history, but more importantly it moved the Sox one step closer to clinching the best record in all of baseball and guaranteeing them home field throughout the postseason (all they need is for Houston to lose one more game this season to secure it). More importantly, at least in my mind, is that the team carried over the momentum from Thursday night's game and played better than they have lately. Even with a cast of mostly bit players, they hit, pitched, and looked better than they've been doing over the last month. That was the most encouraging aspect of this game...that and winning, of course. Also, Chris Sale looked to be just about back to full strength, striking out seven and not issuing any walks in his 3.1 innings of work. The two runs on five hits were a bit worrisome but I'm going to be a glass half full kind of guy for the moment and chalk that up to the last vestiges of rust being shaken off. It will be Rick Porcello's turn to get back into fighting shape in preparation for October when he'll face off against Mike Clevinger in the second game of the series Saturday night. As long as the pitching can get back to where it needs to be and the bats return to form (as they're seemingly doing), I'll feel better as the team builds positive momentum toward the finish line.