Game 156: Red Sox at Cleveland Indians (September 23, 2018)

After letting a winnable game slip away in extra innings the night before, the Red Sox looked poised to bounce back in the series finale against the Indians. Mookie Betts was back in the lineup and while they had Hector Velazquez making a spot start, there was no reason to think they couldn't sneak out of Cleveland with the series win. For the first two games they fielded a lineup made up mostly of call-ups and bench players and split with the Tribe so surely they'd be able to get the job done, clinch home field throughout the postseason, and head back to Fenway Park on Monday with the franchise record for wins, right?

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Things seemed to be off to a good start in the first inning when Mookie scored on a wild pitch from Indians starter Adam Plutko during Rafael Devers' at bat. The Sox added another run in the third when Devers hit into a fielder's choice that brought Christian Vazquez home. The 2-0 lead didn't last long, though, because Cleveland picked up three runs in the fourth starting with an RBI single off the bat of Edwin Encarnacion. That was enough to chase Velazquez from the game and bring in Steven Wright. Wright wasn't able to stem the bleeding and allowed Melky Cabrera to drive in two with a double to give the Indians a 3-2 lead. Mookie wasn't having any of that and in the fifth inning he smacked his 31st homer of the season to tie the game at three. For the second game in a row the score remained knotted after nine innings and so we were treated to bonus baseball. William Cuevas did a great job in long relief, going 5.1 innings and keeping Cleveland off the scoreboard, but his carriage finally turned back into a pumpkin in the bottom of the eleventh. After loading the bases, he was lifted for Robby Scott who surrendered a game winning RBI single to Greg Allen. The Red Sox lost 4-3 and squandered another golden opportunity to win a series against a very good team, secure home field advantage throughout October, and set the franchise win record. The three errors the team committed certainly didn't help the cause, but I have to say in general this Cleveland team scares me a lot less than it has in recent years. I'm not saying they're a pushover, but of the big four teams in the American League, I'd place them either third or fourth (depending on how the Yankees finish the season). Mookie was a monster, accounting for half of the Red Sox' eight hits with a 4-6 night. To go along with those four hits, he scored two runs and drove one in. No one else did much of anything at the plate, though, with only Jackie Bradley, Xander Bogaerts (who left the game with a sore shoulder), Tzu-Wei Lin, and Vazquez each picking up a hit. The team as a whole left a whopping twenty-six runners stranded on base and you know what I always say: it's difficult to win a game when you don't take advantage of that many opportunities to score.

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I've gone on record as not being a fan of coasting to the finish line of the regular season, regardless of the sport. I hated John Farrell's approach to the end of 2016 and 2017 and I'm not really a fan of Alex Cora doing it this year, although it does feel a bit different this season. Unlike the malaise and fatigue that seemed to hover over the final two Farrell teams, this team still seems vibrant and joyous. I just believe that you want to finish the season strong so that the momentum can carry over to the postseason. In my opinion, the time to rest guys and ease completely off would have been on Monday with the lowly Orioles coming to Boston for a three game series; it would have been nice to make a statement and take two or three games in Cleveland (which they easily could've done as all three were there for the taking). What's done is done, though, and for now it's time to move on to the Orioles and a new series. Nathan Eovaldi will get the start for the Sox in what should be his final tune-up before October. At this point I wish we could just fast forward to the ALDS, but there's still a little bit of business for the Red Sox to take care of with the Orioles and Yankees