Red Sox

Matt Barnes can be bullpen force Red Sox need

Matt Barnes can be bullpen force Red Sox need

BOSTON — Aside from actually winning Game 1, the good news for the Red Sox is that their bullpen probably can’t run into this much trouble every night.

What's also encouraging is that if the bullpen is to succeed beyond Friday, the pitcher the Sox need to step up in a huge way, Matt Barnes, seems up to the task.

Barnes made a little more work for himself than was necessary — a rite of passage for anyone leaving the Sox ‘pen, apparently — when he entered a jam in the seventh inning with the Sox ahead 5-2. He threw a wild pitch to his first batter, Brett Gardner, with two on and none out. Then he walked Gardner, which rendered the wild pitch irrelevant, but also brought up a fellow named Giancarlo Stanton.

“You’ve got to kind of slow it down and take it pitch by pitch,” Barnes said. “You can’t get caught up in what’s going on. That’s the hardest thing to do. With everything going on and how everything matters so much, is to be able to slow it down and do what you know how to do.”

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Now, Stanton didn’t have a good night. He struck out four times, in fact, including that match-up with Barnes, who allowed just one of his inherited runners to score in the inning. But Barnes was the man handed the mop, and he’s going to have to continue to be. The righty buried a nasty 1-2 curveball low and over the middle, too tantalizing for Stanton to take and too nasty for him to touch.

“I thought Barnes made a great pitch against him, and just seeing the replay, where he started a tough pitch — sometimes you know that goes with Giancarlo sometimes,” Yanks manager Aaron Boone said. “If you make pitches against him, his outs are a lot of times strikeouts.”

And a lot of Barnes’ outs are strikeouts, as well. He fanned 14 batters per nine innings in 2018, slightly better than Craig Kimbrel’s 13.9. Their walk rates were virtually identical as well at 4.5 per nine.

Barnes took a remarkable step forward in 2018, with his average fastball nearly a full 2 mph more than it was a year ago, from roughly 95 to 97.

Kimbrel, who allowed a home run, can’t go it alone. Maybe Brandon Workman, who threw a nasty curveball to Gleyber Torres in the sixth inning, can inject himself into the most dependable, high-leverage mix too. 

Pitching coach Dana LeVangie said he didn’t think he saw nerves from his guys with all the balls in the dirt, wild pitches and general inability to find the strike zone. (Sandy Leon was a saint behind the plate.) 

“If you asked him, he might tell you,” LeVangie said of Ryan Brasier, who allowed two inherited runners to score in the sixth. “But I expect him to be a lot better tomorrow than he was tonight.”

The Red Sox must hope that for all their relievers. With Steven Wright and his sub-2 ERA as a reliever this season now likely off the Sox roster due to a knee problem, one of their prime candidates to emerge out of the’ pen disappears.

Cora didn’t want to turn to Barnes so early on Friday. He didn't want to use scheduled Game 3 starter Rick Porcello in the eighth, either, but to Cora's credit, his moves worked with what amounted to a 24-man roster.

“In a perfect world it was going to be to be Barnes with two outs in the seventh,” Cora said. “That’s the game right there. We needed to shut it down and he did a good job.”

There will have to be more of the same.

“We’re all in, we’re all in to win this,” LeVangie said. “We expect our guys in the bullpen to be available every game this series. If we play five we expect them to be available five games. And our training room has become an emergency room, so we’re expecting — we’re asking a lot from these guys and it might be six outs. That’s the way it is.”

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How a quick-thinking Dustin Pedroia made sure Michael Chavis wouldn't lose out on memento of a lifetime

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How a quick-thinking Dustin Pedroia made sure Michael Chavis wouldn't lose out on memento of a lifetime

BOSTON - As Michael Chavis approached a small group of cameras awaiting his thoughts on the first home run of his career, a reporter accidentally stepped in his way.

Chavis sidestepped, spun, and tossed a Kobe-esque finger roll at an imaginary rim. We can only assume it swished.

On an otherwise lost night for the Red Sox, who swept in a doubleheader at the hands of the Tigers, Chavis provided one of the few highlights -- a mammoth 441-foot home run over everything in left field that allowed him to fulfill a childhood dream and circle the bases as a big leaguer.

"I felt like I was floating, honestly," Chavis said after a 4-2 defeat in the nightcap. "Just kind of tried not to sprint. I've seen a couple of other guys hitting their first home runs and they sprint because they're so excited. I kind of tried to act like I had hit a home run before and stayed calm in that kind of moment. It was special for sure."

Even more special was the way he retrieved the ball. Whoever corralled it on Lansdowne Street -- a father and son leaving the park, per NESN's Guerin Austin -- gladly turned it over when injured Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia signed a ball and offered it in exchange.

"I need to thank Dustin," Chavis said. "Apparently, he signed a ball so whoever found it would give me the ball and they were very gracious so if they see this, thank you very much. I really appreciate it. It's not going to happen again, so it's really special."

Chavis had the ball in a sock to keep it from being damaged and planned to hand it over to his mom, Dorothy, who led an emotional, enthusiastic cheering section of three or four in the family seats at Fenway.

"Without a doubt," he said. "She earned that ball."

Added Chavis: "Oh, man, I'm sure she was going crazy. After the game, I gave her a big hug and it's always, just, any time she can come out to a game, it's special. Obviously, we travel a lot and she doesn't get to come out as often as she likes but her being here might have been the biggest part, honestly."

Four games into his career, Chavis owns a crucial double vs. the Rays for his first hit, and now a homer. He's floating all right, like Kobe soaring to the rim.

"I'm starting to get more comfortable, more settled in, not to downplay it at all, it was, without a doubt, a special, unbelievable moment I'll remember for the rest of my life, but that first hit was next level," Chavis said. "The moment in the game and me not really being aware, it was just wild. It was a notch below that one, but it's still a life-long memory for sure."

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Remember the Rays series that saved the Red Sox season? It was a mirage

Remember the Rays series that saved the Red Sox season? It was a mirage

BOSTON - You know what they say about momentum -- it's only good until the Tigers come to town for a doubleheader.

So much for Tampa Bay. The Red Sox swept the Rays over the weekend in a taut series that featured solid starting pitching, timely offense, and just enough relief to make the Red Sox finally feel like defending champions after three rocky weeks.

We viewed that result with appropriate restraint, however. The lethargy afflicting the Red Sox wouldn't just disappear over a weekend in St. Pete. Come back to Fenway and keep it rolling. Then we could talk.

One doubleheader sweep later, we mourn the loss of their momentum, which slightly outlived the common housefly.

Serious question: Can someone explain what the hell's going on? The Red Sox returned the core of the greatest team in franchise history, virtually everyone's in their prime and healthy, and yet they're still somehow on pace to follow last year's 108-win machine with a 61-win shipwreck.

No one expects them to finish that poorly, of course, but 15 percent of the season is over and the Red Sox have dug themselves a nice little hole.

They visited Tampa last week trailing in the AL East by eight games, left on Sunday trailing by five with renewed life, and two days later find themselves seven back again. That's called two steps forward, one step into traffic.

"It's disappointing," manager Alex Cora admitted. "Obviously you don't want to lose two."

Problems abound. Ace Chris Sale may have struck out 10 in the opener Tuesday, but still struggled to put people away. The Tigers fouled off a staggering 26 pitches, extending at-bats and limiting Sale to five innings as the Red Sox dropped to 0-5 when he starts.

He didn't take the loss because the bullpen took that responsibility off his hands with four horrible innings of five-run ball, the pivotal blow a go-ahead homer off of right-hander Heath Hembree.

The nightcap told a different story, this one featuring offensive futility. The Red Sox went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position, and 3-4 hitters Mitch Moreland and J.D. Martinez combined to leave 12 runners on base by themselves (Martinez hit into a double play for good measure).

Rookie Michael Chavis at least provided some life in the eighth with the first home run of his career, a 441-foot shot over everything in left, but rookie reliever Travis Lakins gave it right back in the bottom of the frame and the Red Sox went quietly in the ninth.

Such diversity of despair has been the story of their season. As many different ways as the Red Sox won last season, that's how varied their modes of defeat are now. Each night brings a new spin on the wheel of misfortune.

The postgame clubhouse offered a truly jarring juxtaposition, with veterans who perhaps already feel their season slipping away quietly packing up and getting the bleep out while rookies Chavis, Lakins, and Darwinzon Hernandez held press conferences in varying degrees of exuberance -- Chavis over his first homer, and the other two celebrating their major-league debuts.

Maybe an infusion of youthful enthusiasm is exactly what the team needs. The Red Sox clubhouse is an understandably grim place right now. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts, one of the only all-around standouts at the moment, admitted between games that the team would need to play the nightcap with urgency.

The Red Sox played hard, but it didn't matter. That's what happens when you think you have momentum, at least until the Tigers show up for two.

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