Red Sox

Drellich: How should Sox handle Sale's pursuit of Pedro's strikeout record?

Drellich: How should Sox handle Sale's pursuit of Pedro's strikeout record?

BALTIMORE — Baseball records are so precise. When to pursue them, when to value them even if minor risk is involved, is not nearly as clear cut.

The Red Sox, Chris Sale and John Farrell have stumbled upon that grey area, and it will continue to play out in the final two weeks of the regular season.

Sale reached a tremendous milestone on Wednesday night, becoming the 14th different pitcher in the live ball era to reach 300 strikeouts in a single season. No one else has done it in the American League this century. Clayton Kershaw was the last to get there in the National League two years ago.

“It was really fun,” Sale said of having his family on hand. “My wife, both my boys are here, my mother-in-law. Being able to run out and get a big hug from him and my wife and everybody — it was special having them here for something like this . . . I’ll spend a little time with them before we head to Cincinnati.”

Now, there’s another mark ahead of Sale: Pedro Martinez’s single-season club record of 313. And the pursuit of that record is going to highlight the discussion of what matters even more.

The tug-of-war between absolute pragmatism and personal achievement was on display Wednesday, when Farrell gave ground to the latter. 

The manager was prepared for the questions after a celebratory 9-0 win over the Orioles. His pitchers threw 26 straight scoreless innings to finish off a three-game sweep of the Orioles, and the Sox had the game well in hand the whole night.

With seven innings and 99 pitches thrown and 299 strikeouts in the books, Sale went back out for the eighth inning.

If you watched it, if you saw Sale drop a 2-2 front-door slider to a hapless Ryan Flaherty for the final strikeout Sale needed and his last pitch of the night, you surely enjoyed it. Records may not be championships, but they have their own appeal in sports that’s undeniable. 

But Sale could have recorded strikeout No. 300 next time out. Surely, he would have. He needed all 111 pitches to do so Wednesday. So the difference between 299 and 300 wound up being just 12 pitches. It’s doubtful those 12 pitches will ruin Sale’s postseason chances, particularly considering he was throwing hard all game, touching 99 mph. 

Nonetheless, the Sox hope to play for another month, and they've been working to get Sale extra rest. So, why risk fatigue, or worse, injury?

“The two overriding factors for me,” Farrell explained, “were the pitch counts and the innings in which he was in control of throughout. Gets an extra day [for five days of rest] this next time through the rotation. All those things were brought into play in the thinking of bringing him back out.

“We know what the final out of tonight represented, him getting the 300 strikeouts. Was aware of that, and you know what, felt like he was in complete command of this game and the ability to go out and give that opportunity, he recorded it.”

If Sale makes his final two starts of the year, he’ll break Martinez's record of 313. At least he should. But he might not make his projected final start, in Game No. 162, so that he’s set up for Game 1 in the Division Series.

(So, if he could reach 314 Ks in his next start, he’d make this discussion disappear — but 14 Ks in one outing is not easy.)

When should exceptions be made to let someone get to a record? Where do you draw the line? Would it be reasonable to get Sale an inning or two against the Astros in Game 162 if he was a few strikeouts away, even though he may face the Astros in the Division Series?

Letting the Astros get extra looks against Sale is a different matter than Sale throwing 12 extra pitches. But neither is really a guarantee of doom. They're small risks, of varying size.

Consider that if Sale is on, he should rough up the Astros no matter what.

What's 12 pitches Wednesday for a guy who leads the majors in average pitches thrown per game? Not enough to keep Farrell from letting Sale have a go at one milestone.

Will the Sox work to put Sale in position for the next?

Records don’t usually fall into such a grey area. Outside of the steroid era, anyway.

Most under-appreciated Red Sox of 2018? Rick Porcello

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Most under-appreciated Red Sox of 2018? Rick Porcello

PHILADELPHIA — Red Sox manager Alex Cora threw Brian Johnson’s name into the Red Sox MVP conversation before Tuesday’s game. From the sound of it, Cora was speaking more to the condition of being under-appreciated by the masses, of being a subtly important contributor.

Such discussion is a rabbit hole that leads to Average Al Horford hand-wringing and circular arguments about the need for the little things, as they say.

Here's fuel for the fire. On a night when Rick Porcello said that Sandy Leon is “the best catcher I’ve ever thrown to” — Leon not only homered, but ended the game with a fantastic play to finish a strikeout on a ball that got away — and on a night when Brock Holt also hit the Red Sox’ first pinch-hit home run of the season, here's another nominee for most under-appreciated member of the 2018 Red Sox. Porcello himself, the former Cy Young winner.

The most news Porcello has made in 2018 is for his double off Max Scherzer. Right?

He was at it again Tuesday night in a 2-1 Sox win over the Phillies. Hitting. He doubled again, finishing with a flop of a dive into second base in the third inning off starter Nick Pivetta. Everyone had a hoot.

“It was bad," Cora said. "It was really bad."

But Porcello is not making news outside of his slugging because he just doesn’t stand out like his rotation peers. 

Chris Sale is a monster. David Price is pitching well and never far from the spotlight. Nathan Eovaldi is the new guy with a perky cutter. Porcello’s just getting the job done, against every team that’s not the Blue Jays.

Except that description doesn’t aptly serve the strength of his season. With 10 strikeouts on Tuesday in seven innings, Porcello recorded his fifth career double-digit strikeout performance and his first since 2015. (Not 2016, his Cy Young season, but 2015.)

“Just pitched a lot better,” Porcello said, referring to his seven runs in four innings against the Jays in his previous outing. “You saw both games. I was throwing pitches right down the middle and walking guys in Toronto. Today for the most part I was able to stay out of the middle of the plate, not give up any free passes.”

He’s doing more than that, though. More than ever has in his career, Porcello is striking batters out — the currency for pitchers — now at a rate of 8.9 per nine innings. That’s better than the Phillies’ Aaron Nola (8.71), than Corey Kluber (8.57) and Jon Lester (7.03). It’s very close to David Price (8.98), Cole Hamels (9.11) and Zack Greinke (9.12).

Among 43 pitchers with 130 innings on the season as a starter, Porcello’s strikeout rate ranks 19th. His rebound from last year was expected, but not a given. 

This is the second straight season Porcello has improved his K rate, jumping from 7.6 per nine just two years ago. His walk rate is where it was last year, but he’s allowing fewer hits all-around, home runs included.

At 151 2/3 innings and a 4.04 ERA, Porcello has been a picture of middle-of-the-rotation steadiness. Even when he's not doubling.

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Holt's pinch-hit homer lifts Red Sox over Phillies, 2-1

Holt's pinch-hit homer lifts Red Sox over Phillies, 2-1

PHILADELPHIA - Pinch-hitter Brock Holt hit a tiebreaking solo homer, Rick Porcello threw seven impressive innings and the major league-leading Boston Red Sox beat the Philadelphia Phillies 2-1 Tuesday night.

Sandy Leon also went deep for Boston, which improved to 86-35. The Red Sox increased their total to 168 homers, matching their number from last year when they hit an AL-low 168.

Porcello (15-5) gave up one run and two hits, striking out 10. He tied Max Scherzer and Luis Severino for the most wins in the majors.

Rhys Hoskins homered, but the Phillies wasted a solid outing from Nick Pivetta. He allowed one run and three hits in six innings.

Holt hit the first pitch he saw from Tommy Hunter (3-2) in the eighth off the video screen on the facing of the second deck in right field.

Heath Hembree tossed a perfect eighth, striking out Odubel Herrera swinging at a pitch that hit his left foot. Craig Kimbrel finished the two-hitter for his 36th save in 40 chances. He's 41 for 41 in interleague games in his career.

Leon gave the Red Sox a 1-0 lead in the third. The least dangerous hitter in Boston's lineup sent a 95 mph fastball into the seats in right-center for his fifth homer.

Porcello followed with a liner over right fielder Nick Williams' head and slid headfirst into second base for his second career extra-base hit.

Porcello retired his first 12 batters before Hoskins drove his 23rd homer out to left in the fifth.

The Phillies have lost five of seven to fall into second place in the NL East behind Atlanta.

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