After such a remarkable win on Saturday—indeed a string of six straight and impressive Red Sox victories—it’s reasonable to be especially disappointed by Sunday’s lackluster Red Sox performance. Still and all, the Sox finish a solid homestand having won five of the six games as they head out to an important 10-game road trip to visit the White Sox, Orioles, and Yankees.
Brian Johnson’s Impeccable, Improbable Start
Sure, you might have expected a solid outing from Sox prospect Brian Johnson. After all, he’s 2-0 with a 2.82 ERA over seven starts at Triple-A Pawtucket this season. But no one could have imagined the dominant, complete game shutout we were privileged to witness on Saturday.Johnson was simply outstanding, becoming the first Boston pitcher with a 9.0-inning shutout in his Fenway debut since Pedro Martinez managed that feat on April 11, 1998. Coincidentally enough, Pedro’s game was also against the Mariners.
Johnson’s travails have been well documented. In just his fourth professional start in 2012, Johnson was struck directly in the face resulting in multiple orbital fractures. He made a dramatic return two years later, even going on to earn 2014 Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors. But nerve problems in his arm shut Johnson down after just one appearance the Red Sox in 2015.
Then, in the off-season, Johnson was a passenger in a carjacking in Florida. Debilitating anxiety settled in and hindered his ability to return to work. He even questioned if he wanted to return. On April 8 this year, Johnson was struck in the side of the head again, though fortunately with less serious consequences.
And then on Saturday, in front of his family, Johnson made his Fenway Park debut as a starter. “Last time I threw here was 2012 and I made two pitches,” Johnson remember after the game, “and today I went nine innings. So it was pretty cool.”
Pretty cool, indeed.
Brian Johnson’s line: 9.0 IP, 5 hits, no runs, no walks, eight strikeouts. 109 pitches thrown. A tremendously good feeling shared by 36,985 fans in the stadium, dozens of players and Sox staffers, and all the rest of us following along in Red Sox Nation.
The Sox provided six runs of support for Johnson and came away with a sixth straight team victory. After the game Johnson was demoted back to Triple-A, but everyone, including the pitcher, knew that was coming. Not hard to imagine we’ll be seeing more of Brian Johnson down the line.
Mariners Turn The Tables
Baseball can be cruel like that. The Sox had the wind at their backs and good feelings all around on Sunday morning.
On paper, the matchup between Rick Porcello and Seattle starter Christian Bergman seemed clearly tilted to a Boston victory. Day games have been especially good for the Sox this season and Porcello entered the game 9-0 with a 3.59 ERA in 13 day starts since the beginning of 2016.
Instead, the Mariners turned the tables on the Sox. Bergman was oddly inscrutable and Boston got shutout by Seattle for the first time at Fenway Park since April 30, 2011. Bizarrely, Porcello has received zero runs of support in now six of his last nine starts. How do you not get a complex from that?
Still, despite the sudden drop off in offensive production, Porcello did little to help himself on Sunday. For a second straight outing he allowed 11 hits, though only two runs. Seattle, 1-7 in their last eight games, left Boston with the satisfaction of pounding out a season-high tying 16 hits.
Championship teams, I was reminded by a follower on RSNStats on Twitter, don’t miss opportunities like this to capitalize on weaker clubs, or clubs that are going through a bad stretch. Hard to disagree with that. At the same time, it’s unreasonable to expect that you’ll beat every team that looks rough in the statistics columns. That, as they say, is why we play the games.
No fan should be disappointed with winning five of six games in a set. Despite Sunday’s shutout, the Red Sox have averaged 6.7 runs/game over their past seven games. Boston’s starting pitchers, for some time now, a major concern for this club, own a 2.54 ERA in the team’s last 9 games. The Elias Sports Bureau reported that the Red Sox are the first major-league team this season to win six straight games with the starting pitcher credited as the victor in each game.
What comes next for the Red Sox, however, is a significant test. Ten games on the road against the mediocre White Sox and, even more importantly, the scuffling Orioles and surprisingly solid Yankees.
Where things stand when the Sox return to Fenway on June 9th may tell us a lot about how this team will do down the stretch.