NEW YORK — Joe Kelly threw in the towel in the 10th inning Friday. He woke up Saturday morning, learned his Boston Red Sox teammates grinded out a 19-inning win that lasted almost seven hours, said to himself, “Holy crud!” and immediately knew what he needed to do in his regular-season debut.
Then, Kelly performed.
Kelly completely shut down the New York Yankees for seven innings Saturday as the Red Sox earned an 8-4 victory at Yankee Stadium. The right-hander, who dealt with biceps soreness in spring training, was activated from the 15-day disabled list just hours before the game, yet he looked like he was in midseason form.
“Power, I would say today was the word of the day,” catcher Ryan Hanigan said after Saturday’s win. “He was down, he was hitting the bottom of the zone real consistently, getting ahead, nice slider, nice breaking ball to get ahead a few times when he needed it. … He was awesome, man. I was excited about it. Great start for him to build some momentum.”
Kelly ran into trouble in the second inning, when the Yankees pushed across their only run against the 26-year-old. He allowed a leadoff single to Alex Rodriguez, walked Garrett Jones and John Ryan Murphy with one out, uncorked a wild pitch and surrendered a sacrifice fly.
But Kelly maintained his composure, became more efficient and retired the final 17 hitters he faced en route to a seven-frame gem. He struck out eight, walked just the two and allowed only the one hit.
“It’s something that when you’re in that groove you don’t want to try to overthrow. Mentally, you’ve got to tell yourself, ‘This is working right now.’ ” Kelly said. “My changeup is usually my secondary go-to pitch, and something that me and (Hanigan) were on the same page (about) and tried to hide it as much as we could going deeper in the ballgame.
“Like I said, 17 in a row, it’s just something that I didn’t want to go out there and try to overthrow. Once something’s working, just try to stay with it.”
The Red Sox certainly were mindful of Kelly’s pitch count, as he hadn’t reached the 90-pitch mark in any of his previous outings between spring training and the minors. But with Kelly feeling good and absolutely dealing the day after Boston’s bullpen was taxed, the Red Sox ultimately relied on him for 93 pitches (58 strikes) before asking for the baseball.
“Couldn’t have written it any better. Seven strong, eight, nine, take it to the house,” Hanigan said. “That’s kind of how we wanted it to go, and it worked out. It’s never that easy, but he was throwing 96, 97, 98 (mph) at the bottom of the zone with command and a good breaking ball. It’s tough to hit.”
Kelly’s outstanding effort capped a very strong first trip through the Red Sox’s much-scrutinized rotation. Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson, Wade Miley and Kelly combined to allow just eight runs over 31 1/3 innings (2.30 ERA) as Boston won four of its first five games.
The Red Sox obviously will take that type of production from their five starters, especially if the offense continues to perform at a high level. And Kelly’s effort Saturday was as encouraging as any, as it showed he’s healthy and that Boston’s hurlers could be capable of shouldering the load when necessary.
Thumbnail photo via Joy R. Absalon/USA TODAY Sports Images