The Boston Red Sox finally reached win No. 50.
The Red Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 2-1 on Wednesday at Busch Stadium, bringing Boston’s season record to 50-63. The Sox had dropped three in a row and 11 of 13 before the win.
It’s unlikely Wednesday’s victory is going to jump-start some late-season surge for the Red Sox — it’s too late for that — but there were some encouraging signs involving several key players.
Let’s break it down.
— Joe Kelly was excellent in his Red Sox debut.
Kelly, pitching against his former team — and best friend Shelby Miller — less than a week after being traded, allowed one earned run over seven innings. The right-hander matched a season-high with four walks but only surrendered three hits.
Kelly showed an impressive three-pitch repertoire that included a fastball that frequently touched 95 mph and topped out at 96 mph, a changeup responsible for several ground ball outs and a nice-looking curveball.
The outing was even more inspiring because Kelly, who also pitched through pain after being struck by a comebacker in the fourth inning, kept his emotions in check despite the unique set of circumstances. Kelly, who spent parts of three seasons with St. Louis, received several loud ovations throughout the evening.
“Definitely hard to put into words,” Kelly said. “I mean, I got a whole standing ovation before I started stretching. The Cardinal fans and the people here are so incredibly awesome. I can’t thank them enough for that. That was awesome. My heart started beating fast and I just tried to keep it together.”
— Junichi Tazawa earned the win. He tossed a 1-2-3 eighth inning before the Red Sox struck for a run in the ninth.
— Xander Bogaerts made an impact offensively and defensively.
Bogaerts saved a run in the second inning. Matt Carpenter, batting with runners at the corners and two outs, hit a ground ball up the middle. Bogaerts ranged to his left and made a fantastic diving stop before flipping to second baseman Dustin Pedroia for an inning-ending forceout.
Third base coach/infield instructor Brian Butterfield was visibly fired up in the Red Sox’s dugout after Bogaerts’ defensive gem. Bogaerts has been a work in progress defensively all season — both at shortstop and third base — but has shown improvement of late at his natural shortstop position.
Bogaerts knocked in Boston’s first run in the fourth inning with an RBI double, though left fielder Matt Holliday probably should have caught the ball near the wall. He then drove in the winning run in the ninth inning with a sacrifice fly to deep center.
— Yoenis Cespedes and Mike Napoli set the table for Bogaerts’ ninth-inning sacrifice fly with a single and a double, respectively, off Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal.
The Cardinals intentionally walked David Ortiz, who pinch-hit for Daniel Nava, to set up a bases-loaded showdown with Bogaerts.
— The win certainly saved the Red Sox from some second-guessing.
Red Sox manager John Farrell called upon Will Middlebrooks to pinch-hit for Kelly (the pitcher) against left-hander Sam Freeman in the eighth inning with Mookie Betts on first base. It would have been a logical move had Middlebrooks been swinging away, but Farrell instead asked the third baseman to bunt.
Middlebrooks, who has one sacrifice bunt in his career, failed to advance Betts. He bunted back to the mound. Freeman made the play and fired to second base to cut down the lead runner.
At a time when the Red Sox are looking to assess players, asking Middlebrooks — a guy who doesn’t bunt — to drop down a sacrifice bunt rather than take his cuts in a late-game situation doesn’t make much sense. If the Sox really wanted to sacrifice, they would have been better off letting Kelly bat, as he at least has some experience coming from the National League.