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.”
MORE FROM GAME 1
- Highlights from Red Sox' 5-4 win over Yankees
- Three Strikes: Sale delivers, bullpen underwhelms
- The Game Story: Red Sox take 1-0 ALDS lead
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.”