With a 5-0 lead in the sixth inning, the Orioles were supposed to finish the job. They were supposed to have taken a big enough lead to coast through the rest of the game and get a few extra minutes of sleep before the 11:05 a.m. on Marathon Monday. After all, the Red Sox came into the game batting .235 as a team and only managed four baserunners through the first five innings of the game.
But then, a team that looked very much like the 2013 Red Sox showed up.
One Jonny Gomes three-run shot, 3 1/3 innings of shutout relief pitching and three Baltimore errors later left Boston celebrating a walk-off win on Easter Sunday. Last year’s club won 11 games in walk-off fashion, so Sunday night’s Red Sox win was a reminder of good times for the fans at Fenway Park.
“It was crazy, but at the end of the day that’s how the boys win,” said starting pitcher Jake Peavy, who allowed five earned runs through 5 2/3 innings. “I think you certainly saw that 2013 spirit still exists with the boys. We scratched and clawed tonight, got a big hit from Jonny and gets us back in the ballgame. We scratched and clawed and found a way to come out on top.”
The framework for the comeback was set early, when the Red Sox batters drove Ubaldo Jimenez‘s pitch count up. Jimenez only faced four batters in the first inning, but had to throw 25 pitches to retire the side. By the time Gomes hit his home run in the sixth inning, Jimenez had thrown 107 pitches and was consequently taken out of the game.
The Red Sox saw an average of 4.65 pitches per plate appearance against Jimenez Sunday night. The league-leader in average pitches per plate appearance in the majors is Carlos Santana of the Indians, who sees an average of 4.58 pitches. The 2013 Red Sox were among the best in the major leagues at driving up pitch counts and saw the most pitches in the majors (25,667 pitches).
“It goes back to our approach at the plate,” said manager John Farrell. “Seeing a lot of pitches, driving up pitch counts, getting into their bullpen, trying to get some favorable matchups on our part, I think the last two games in [Chicago] carrying through to this series, it has been a much more consistent approach.”
Getting to the bullpen is part of the Red Sox success because it has an advantage over most teams. A combination of Chris Capuano, Junichi Tazawa, Andrew Miller and Edward Mujica shut the door on the Orioles over the last 3 1/3 innings, only allowing two hits while striking out four and holding Baltimore scoreless.
This year’s Red Sox bullpen has been the best in the majors, combining for a 1.7 WAR through the first few weeks of the season. Last year’s crew was also among the best in the majors, as it posted a fourth-best 5.8 WAR only behind the Rangers, Royals and White Sox.
“We are not going to give up until the last out,” Gomes said. “Our bullpen knows that as well. [Capuano] comes in and if we can just keep them close, obviously we have a chance. We did that tonight.”
Another key to the win was the heads up plays of advancing the extra base, particularly by Dustin Pedroia. The second baseman scampered over to third when Matt Wieters lost a wild pitch behind him in the bottom of the ninth inning. Then when the a throw from left field flew to the backstop after a Mike Carp line out, Pedroia tagged and found himself at home plate.
Gomes said that the theme of the team’s resilience carried over from last year’s team to this year’s, and it is those heads-up plays from Pedroia that make the Red Sox a tough team to beat.
“To win games like tonight and to win games like the other night, we have really got a baseball IQ, which is capitalizing on mistakes and not letting the other team capitalize on your mistakes,” Gomes said. “Everything is starting to fall into place.
“At the end of the day, you want to win and bring Koji [Uehara] in and slam the door, but it is good to know we have that in our pocket.”