By: Andrew Tashian
Boston opened up a three game series against the Oakland Athletics at Fenway Park on Tuesday night. The Sox play only one team with a winning record for the remainder of the season -- a 4 game, season-ending series against the AL West leading Houston Astros -- so this series marks the beginning of a tremendous opportunity for Boston to distance themselves in the AL East. Oakland is well out of playoff contention owning a 63-80 record entering play Tuesday. A dismal 21-47 on the road, Oakland enters Fenway Park where the Red Sox own the American League's best home winning percentage [.620] -- possessing a 44-27 record. However, both teams had identical 10-10 records through their last 20 games.
The second inning, which is normally a forgettable inning during E-Rod starts, was very good to Boston on Tuesday. The Sox offense exploded for 5 runs against 25-year-old LHP Sean Manaea. Manaea struggles in the early parts of games, surrendering 46 of his 72 runs allowed in the first 3 innings of his outings.
It was an important outburst of offense after E-Rod allowed Oakland to take a 1-0 first inning lead. Former Sox INF Jed Lowrie hit his 44th double to drive in a run but it would be the last hit or run Rodriguez allowed in the inning. Starting off the Sox barrage was SS Xander Bogaerts who singled home 1B Sam Travis after Doctor Chill reached second on a single & E9.
Bogaerts was given the start because INF Eduardo "The Identity" Nunez was, and will continue to be, out of the Red Sox lineup. Nunez injured his back and knee in the last series vs Toronto. An MRI confirmed Nunez as a PCL sprain in his right knee. The Sox will surely miss The Identity's presence at the beginning of the order. Eddie is batting .319 in his 37 games with Boston and has hit safely in 10 of his last 11 games. Manager John Farrell will have to ease Nunez back into play, much like he's doing with 2B Dustin Pedroia, when he's healthy enough to return to the lineup. Of course, in the meantime, Xander Bogaerts will have to step up -- a reality that is months old now.
Speaking of The Laser Show, he continued to swing the bat well against Oakland. After a Christian Vazquez RBI single to score Bogey, Pedroia extended his hitting streak against the Athletics to 25 games with a RBI single of his own. That is the longest active hitting streak for any player versus any single opponent. To cap the second inning, Mookie Betts launched a triple off of the bottom of the right field fence that chased home two & gave the Red Sox a 5-1 lead.
The score would remain the same until the 4th inning when Mookie drove in two more runs -- 4th of the game -- upping his season total to 85. Hitting the longest baseball of his Major League career, a 434-foot, two-run bomb he found himself a single & double away from the cycle. That home run made Mookie Betts the first Red Sox player with consecutive 20 Homerun/20 Stolen Base seasons. Let us all take a minute to honor some history by watching Mookie go bridge.
History can be so damn beautiful. If this is the beginning of Mookie Betts actually playing like Mookie Betts then that can only spell good things for the Sox heading into the postseason. A peaking Red Sox offensive lineup will have a productive Mookie Betts in the middle of it.
Vazquez & JBJ hit back-to-back opposite field doubles in the 5th inning. Vaz's was his 16th double this season and scored Bogaerts, who reached base 4 times, from second-base. Over his last 16 games at Fenway Park, Vazquez is batting over .430, with 5 2B, 2 HR, and 11 RBI. I've been saying for some time now, Vaz is Boston's best catcher and needs to be in the lineup as much as possible. JBJ's double allowed Vazquez to score and the Sox extended their lead to 9-1. But they weren't done, or should I be specific and say, Mookie Betts wasn't done.
Mookie Betts is heating up, folks! An absolute I'm-the-best-player-on-the-team-not-named-Chris-Sale BOMB and Oakland found themselves down a ten-spot, 11-1. Mookie finished the game 3-for-5 with 2 HR, 3B and 6 RBI. It was Mookie's 10th multi-HR game of his career. Only Jim Rice  had more multi-HR games for the Red Sox before turning the age of 25. Betts turns 25 October 7th.
Coming into the game Boston owned a record of 60-5, on the season, when scoring 5+ runs. Having scored 5 in the second frame alone it was more than enough for Eduardo Rodriguez to settle in after his shaky first inning. After allowing that first inning RBI double to Lowrie, Rodriguez would not surrender another hit or run. Getting his pitch count under control and avoiding the big inning, E-Rod pitched 6 innings, walking an alarming 4 batters & hitting one. Despite his control issues, E-Rod struck out 9 & pitched well enough to win, even if the Sox hadn't put double digit runs on the board.
Brandon Workman was allowed the 7th inning to work. Recently acquired Rajai Davis took over, defensively, for Jackie Bradley Jr in CF & INF Brock Holt replaced Pedey at 2B. Workman made quick work, man, of the A's in the seventh. Striking out the side on just 13 pitches, the Sox righty threw his 3rd scoreless frame in his last 4 outings.
Farrell sent out RHP Carson Smith for the 8th inning. Smith has been good in his two games since joining the club for the first time in since having Tommy John surgery in 2016. Entering the night he hadn't allowed a walk or run & had only allowed 2 hit while punching out 2 hitters. Tuesday night wasn't the smoothest of Smith's career outings. He walked his first batter on 5 pitches. The rest of inning could have gone a lot worse if it weren't for Future HOFer Rafael Devers flashing his "not-ready-for-the-big-leagues-glove."
Smith was able to collect a strikeout of the next hitter, however, he struggled after getting just two outs in the 8th. Surrendering a wall-ball single and another walk to load the bases, Farrell was forced to bounce Smith from the mound after 29 pitches. Austin Maddox entered the game and was able to strike-out A's pinch-hitting Jake Smolinski on a 96 MPH fastball. It was the 14th strikeout for Boston's pitching staff on the evening.
Maddox stayed on for the ninth inning after Boston failed to add on anything in the home half of the previous frame. After allowing a leadoff base-hit, Austin Maddox got the next two batters on a fly-out to CF and a pop out to Vazquez behind the plate. On Maddox's 16th pitch, A's Dustin Garneau smoked a line drive that was caught by Rajai Davis to clinch a Red Sox victory.
The Red Sox will take a 4 game AL East lead, with just 18 games left to play, into Wednesday. Oakland will send 25-year-old Jharel Cotton to the rubber against Boston's unlikely Godsend, Doug Fister. The Fist is 8-7 with a 2.88 ERA vs Oakland in 17 career starts. Fister has been more valuable to Boston's rotation than anyone ever expected and has placed himself in a position to start aplayoff game in October.
FINAL SCORE: REDSOX 11 - ATHLETICS 1
Photo Credit - Boston Red Sox