ST. LOUIS — The Red Sox bullpen was already one of their strengths, well before all eight relievers they have combined for seven shutout innings Wednesday night in a 13-inning, 5-4 win over the Cardinals.
“I mean really, who cares about my performance tonight?” said starter Rick Porcello, who accounted for the Cardinals' runs. “I think the story of the game is the bullpen coming out there and throwing six or seven goose eggs, whatever it was . . . They were phenomenal. They were the reason why we won.”
They weren’t supposed to be this good without Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg, and yet they continue to excel.
Robby Scott’s ERA is down to 0.87. His career ERA is 0.55. He debuted on Sept. 2. From that day on, only one reliever (among those with a minimum of 10 innings thrown) has been better: Orioles closer Zach Britton, at 0.41.
“As a whole, we’ve got a great group of guys down there right now,” said Joe Kelly, a former Cardinals farmhand. “It’s something that we take pride in. You know we’ve had guys go on the DL that aren’t part of the unit right now, but something that we take pride in. We get our name called and go out there and try to perform the best we can. Since Game 1 of this season, I feel like for the most part we’ve gone out there and done our jobs.
“It gives us even more confidence as a whole [knowing] when we get the ball it’s going to be shutdown innings.”
Kelly’s night was an oddity, and an encouraging one. He’s been one of the hardest throwing pitchers anywhere this season, but per BrooksBaseball.net, the hardest pitch he threw on Thursday was 94 mph. He’s hit 102 mph already this season.
No, he wasn’t hurt as he recorded two outs and allowed one hit, he said. This was a purposeful attempt to gain better control and more run to his two-seamer against hitters he’s familiar with.
Pitching in the eighth inning right after the Red Sox scored two runs in the top half of the inning to tie the score at 4-4, Kelly threw 10 pitches, six of them breaking balls. He threw seven strikes in all.
Aledmys Diaz grounded out to third, Magneuris Sierra struck out looking on a fastball and Kolten Wong singled.
“Coming up in this organization is, the hitters that I ended up facing . . . I’ve seen 'em in spring training, I’ve seen 'em throughout their whole careers,” said Kelly, who chatted with old friends during batting practice both days. “These are hitters that are very patient. If you start trying to blow it out and throw it as hard as you can and start throwing balls, these guys will take pitches.
“It’s one of those things where I mentally went into the game knowing that if I paint, you know, with a little bit of movement, they’re going to be taking pitches. If I throw strikes with my breaking ball — Wong got that hit. It wasn’t hit hard. But, before that, I got two strikes on him. Swing and miss with the breaking ball.
“I know Diaz too. Early in spring training, I threw fricken 99 down and away and he ripped a line drive over the first baseman’s head. So it was one of those things where I was conscious. Coming back, I didn’t want to go out there and overthrow [in a] tie game and put guys on base for free. So just try to get out there and throw strikes with a little bit of movement."
Kelly said he expects to try this again going forward. He’s done it before as a starter.