BOSTON - It took two weeks and a visit from the worst team in the American League, but the Red Sox rotation finally has its first win of 2019.
It's a testament to the Stranger Things-esque start to this season that the 6-4 win over the Orioles didn't go to ace Chris Sale, former Cy Young Award winners David Price or Rick Porcello, or postseason hero Nathan Eovaldi. The Sox instead journeyed into the Upside Down, where the eternally tantalizing Eduardo Rodriguez finally delivered.
Featuring his best changeup since 2018, Rodriguez toyed with the woeful Orioles, carrying a perfect game into the fifth and a shutout into the seventh. He left after allowing a two-run homer in the seventh, his final line read: 6 2/3 innings, three hits, two runs, zero walks, and eight strikeouts. He recorded a career-high 21 swings and misses, including 10 on his changeup.
Even acknowledging that the Orioles aren't exactly good, it was still an encouraging sign for the Red Sox, who have been desperate for a quality start from someone, anyone over the season's first 15 days.
They were the last team in baseball without a win from a starter, but Rodriguez snapped that streak by coming out with a 97-mph fastball and then shifting to a late-acting changeup the second time through the order. The Orioles had no answer for him until a clean single to left by Hanser Alberto in the fifth, and a two-run homer from Dwight Smith on what was actually a decent pitch in the seventh.
"There was conviction, great tempo, execution," said manager Alex Cora. "We've needed a start like this for two weeks. He went out there and did an outstanding job."
Rodriguez perpetually feels like a work in progress, partly because of injuries, and partly because he's often searching. He has reinvented his delivery and mechanics multiple times since joining the Red Sox, but in the days leading up to Friday's start, he decided to return to basics, with the aid of a franchise icon.
Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez helped Rodriguez restore the delivery he featured at the start of his career, with a focus on being less rigid in his upper body. The results, for one night, anyway, spoke eloquently.
"This past week, in between starts, I was working with Pedro over there in the bullpen," Rodriguez explained. "I changed my mechanics to go back to when I got to the big leagues. We worked on it in the bullpen, on flat ground, everything. As soon as I got in the game, I see the first pitch was 94, 95. I said, 'I've got my fastball.' I was in command. I started throwing it a lot more. I was feeling really good.
"I was throwing the ball a little bit stiff," Rodriguez added. "I was feeling a little bit stiff in my upper body. I needed to get more smooth, more and more of my body, pretty good rhythm."
Catcher Christian Vazquez noted the difference on the radar gun and consistently signaled fastball until it came time to mix things up, at which point Rodriguez unleashed a dominant mid-80s changeup.
"That's his pitch," Vazquez said. "That's the best pitch for him, the changeup. That's why he's in the big leagues. I think if the changeup is good, it's going to be a good night for him. If [the fastball] is 97, 95, you throw that good changeup, they're going to be in front, it's going to be weak contact or swing and miss."
The importance of this one to a reeling Red Sox rotation can't be overstated. Cora hopes it leads to better things as the team regains its footing with consecutive wins after a 3-9 start.
"We've been waiting for this, man," Cora said. "We're going to be fine. We just have to play better baseball, and it starts with the starters, and we know they're going to turn it around. Today was the beginning. Tomorrow, we have Rick Porcello. I can go to bed and tomorrow wake up like, yeah, we've got Rick Porcello on the mound, and we expect him to go deep in the game, and then the next day is David Price. And the next day is Hector [Velazquez], and he's going to give us more than three innings. Then we have [Chris] Sale and Nate [Eovaldi]. That's why, on a nightly basis, we feel very comfortable. People go through slumps. Maybe we went through ours already."
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.