Game 155: Red Sox at Cleveland Indians (September 22, 2018)

Since clinching the division on Thursday and tying the franchise record for wins on Friday, the Red Sox don't have much to play for the remainder of the regular season. Other than breaking the team win record and clinching home field advantage throughout the postseason with one more win (or a Houston loss), Alex Cora and his squad seem to be mainly focused on resting key players and getting everyone back into a good rhythm in preparation for the ALDS. It's been kind of fun to see some of the recent call ups and bench guys play and many of them were instrumental in defeating the Indians in the series opener on Friday. It was more of the same Saturday in the middle game with Mookie Betts sitting again while the rest of the Killer B's made their way back into the lineup. The thing I was paying attention to the most in this game was Rick Porcello's performance. After a first half of the season where he looked to be recapturing his 2016 Cy Young-winning form, he's been inconsistent and, at times, downright awful since the All Star break. As a key component of the rotation, he's going to need to be pitching at his best in October and it needed to start now with this game against Cleveland.

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Unfortunately, he continued his string of poor performances by giving us another stinker of a game. Five innings of work (I'm old enough to remember when pitchers routinely went six to eight innings every damn game...and I'm not that old), four runs on eight hits, and two walks with only one strikeout. It was another disappointing and ineffective performance that absolutely needs to stop happening. One thing I'll say for Rick is that he was damn lucky the offense eventually got him off the hook for the loss. Of those runs he surrendered, the Indians jumped out to a two run lead in the bottom of the second when Yan Gomes doubled to drive in Josh Donaldson. That was followed by Francisco Lindor singling to bring Melky Cabrera in, while the Sox were able to throw Gomes out at the plate trying to score behind him. Rafael Devers continued his mini hot streak with a solo homer in the third (his 19th long ball of the season), but Porcello gave up an RBI single to Donaldson in the bottom of the inning to allow Cleveland to push their lead back up to two runs. That was the theme of this game for the earlier innings; every time Boston pulled closer, Cleveland answered with a run. That held true when Blake Swihart hit a solo homer in the fourth (so many solo home runs...welcome to Major League Baseball in 2018) which was answered by Lindor singling in another run in the bottom of the inning: 4-2 Indians. Boston finally broke through to tie the game in the eighth inning; with runners on second and third and two outs, Andrew Benintendi hit a flare to left field that drove in Tzu-Wei Lin and Jackie Bradley to tie it up at four. The teams then traded outs (with Brian Johnson doing an excellent job holding down the fort and even Joe Kelly, who made it look as difficult as ever, escaping by the skin of his teeth) until the eleventh. The Red Sox had had some chances but couldn't do anything and it cost them when Michael Brantley drove in the winning run in the bottom of the eleventh with a single to push Rajai Davis across. He did this against Drew Pomeranz who looks beyond lost (and if I'm being honest, seems disinterested and perhaps angry out there). A bunch of Red Sox fans online wisecracked that Cora put him in the game because it was getting late and he just wanted to go home. Mission accomplished. It was a winnable game that really didn't mean anything to the Sox and it ended up being a 5-4 defeat in extra innings.

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Normally a game like this would irritate me to no end, but my biggest takeaway is a measure of satisfaction that for the second time in as many nights a mainly AAAA Red Sox lineup of call ups and bench guys went toe-to-toe with Cleveland's A-team, winning one game and nearly winning another. Mookie will be back in the lineup for the series finale Sunday (at least that's what Cora said before the game) although with Hector Velazquez making another spot start it doesn't seem as though Cora is going to stop easing off the gas any time soon. If it were up to me, I'd go all out to win Sunday night to clinch the best record in the league (and home field advantage) and then completely ease up in the home series against Baltimore that begins on Monday. They don't pay me the big money to manage the team, though, so I'll be curious to see how Cora handles the remaining games against the Orioles and Yankees this coming week.