Game 157: Baltimore Orioles at Red Sox (September 24, 2018)

As expected, a visit from the absolutely pathetic Orioles was exactly what the Red Sox needed. After dropping the final two games against Cleveland, both in extra innings and both extremely winnable, the Sox came home to Fenway Park to open their final home stand of the regular season with a series against the birds from Baltimore. It was hardly a marquee match up and the same could be said for the two starters going against each other, Nathan Eovaldi and Dylan Bundy. Still, with the Sox seemingly backing their way into the postseason like they've done the last two seasons, some wins against a hapless Orioles team to get them back in rhythm (and to clinch home field advantage throughout October) would be just what the doctor ordered.

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From the beginning of the game this one was all Boston. Brock Holt got things started with an RBI double in the bottom of the second inning and was followed by Christian Vazquez bringing him home with an RBI single. Mookie Betts then crushed his 32nd home run of the season over the Green Monster to bring in Vazquez and make it 4-0 Red Sox. That was enough to knock Bundy out of the game and get to the Baltimore bullpen. In the fourth, Andrew Benintendi drilled one right into the shift but the resulting hop deflected off the glove of Jonathan Villar which allowed Jackie Bradley to score. Xander Bogaerts then hit a line drive to left field to drive Mookie in and extend the Boston lead to 6-0. The O's got on the board in the fifth when Eovaldi uncorked a wild pitch during Steve Wilkerson's at bat which allowed Tim Beckham to run in and score from third base. It never felt like the Sox were in trouble, though, and the same held true when Adam Jones drove in the final Baltimore run in the eighth with a sacrifice fly off of Ryan Brasier. Matt Barnes continued his journey back from injury to pitch a clean ninth and seal the deal. It was an easy 6-2 win for the Sox who earned their 106th victory of the season, breaking the franchise win record and clinching the best record in the American League (and thus, home field advantage). There was no drama and some nice performances, chiefly from Eovaldi who pitched five solid innings, striking out ten without a single walk and only allowing the one run on four hits and a wild pitch. Eduardo Rodriguez pitched out of the bullpen in preparation for his new role in the postseason and did a good job. At the plate, every starter recorded at least one hit except for JD Martinez (0-2 but with two walks) and Rafael Devers. Granted, the competition wasn't particular good, but even so it was nice to see given how erratic the hitting had been against good and even bad teams this past month.

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My fear now is that Alex Cora will really take his foot off the gas and ease up on these final five games. The Yankees series later this week which closes out the season would be a nice opportunity to win the season series and hopefully do some damage to their Wild Card travel plans. I'll be interested to see how Cora handles that. As for this series, David Price will pitch the middle game and hopefully continue his string of excellent second half performances as he heads into October. With these last five games, it should be all about finishing strong and being in a good groove before the intensity really ramps up.

(You'll notice I didn't make too big a deal out of the Sox setting the team win record. That's because A) in the grand scheme of things it doesn't mean much when everybody starts the playoffs at 0-0, and B) anything less than at least an ALCS appearance will be a crushing disappointment this season. I don't think we need to be reminded of that by continually pointing out how many regular season wins they had. Still, it earned them home field advantage, it's a great accomplishment, and I feel blessed to have been able to witness it).

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