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Viewpoint Red Sox take Game 1 from the Yankees, but this bullpen is a horror show

October 6, 2018

BOSTON — J.D Martinez hit one home run to left field at Fenway Park. He hit another to right field that would have been a home run at Yankee Stadium.

And then the Red Sox bullpen almost gave it all back.

Chris Sale struck out eight, didn’t allow a run through five innings, buried fears about his left shoulder and displayed enough of his repertoire to understand why he’s a Cy Young pitcher.

And the Red Sox bullpen almost gave it all back.

J.A. Happ, the guy Yankees manager Aaron Boone wanted to start Game 1 of this ALDS, the guy who had a 1.99 ERA against the Red Sox this season, had a lousy first inning, couldn’t get out of the third, and surrendered five runs in two-plus innings.

And the Red Sox bullpen almost gave it all back.

In a state of split allegiances, we can report back to Connecticut that the Red Sox scored a 5-4, split-decision victory Friday night. Boston got the first cut, yet it is impossible to know how deep it is.

We found out a lot of what we already knew about these two teams. And we found out that we have no idea how this best-of-five series will end.

We do know there will be no cure for heart disease in New England this October with this Red Sox bullpen. The bullpen bent, bent, bent, and ultimately didn’t break over three hours, 41 minutes. Manager Alex Cora even had to turn to Game 4 starter Rick Porcello to start the eighth inning as a bridge to closer to Craig Kimbrel. And while Kimbrel did get four outs and struck out the side in the ninth, he also watched Aaron Judge drive his 1-1 knuckle curve into the bullpen to pull the Yankees within a hair’s breadth.

Go ahead folks in Middletown and East Hampton. Celebrate the win.

Go ahead folks in Greenwich and Stamford. Bemoan the loss.

Just be ready to bury those emotions in 24 hours.

This we know. Martinez, who had a season of .340/43 homers/130 RBI, is a magnificent hitter. Happ threw six successive balls in the first before Martinez semi-golfed a rising liner into first row of the Monster seats for a three-run homer.

“J.D. made him pay on a pitch down that J.A. probably wanted to get a little more elevated,” Boone said.

“Everything you did in the season doesn’t matter anymore,” Martinez said. “Everything starts at zero. Obviously, I was a little more pumped up than every other home run I hit during the season.”

In the third, Martinez drove Judge to the fence. Judge would have watched that one off Chad Green go into the right-field stands in the Bronx. Judge had just enough room to pull it in. Still, the guy who led the majors with 59 multi-hit games in the regular season, of course, opened the postseason 2-for-4 and with a multi-hit game.

“I don’t go up there trying to hit home runs,” Martinez said. “Contrary to everyone’s belief of, ‘J.D. is a launch-angle guy. He wants to get the ball in the air and this and that.’ This is true, but you’re not trying to force situations. I believe you are a hitter first and you’re a slugger second.

“I work on my swing, on my craft day-in and day-out. I was able to play alongside, in my opinion, the best hitter with Miguel Cabrera (in Detroit). Watch the way he goes about it, the way he looks at situations. When he takes his shots versus trying to shoot a ball. I think I’ve grown over the years, learned who I am, and what I can and can’t do.”

Sale, meanwhile, would pile up eight strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings, only one off his fastball. The other seven came off the slider (five) and change (2). He was mixing his stuff and if there were any questions about the lingering effects of shoulder inflammation, well, he had answers over 93 pitches.

“He wasn’t his dominant self necessarily,” Boone said. “But he did a really nice job of mixing his pitches, changing speeds. His change-up and slider were a factor and he could reach back on the heat when he really needed.”

“(Cora) said something to me the other night that really stuck,” Sale said. “It was win the first pitch and then win every pitch after that. I threw every pitch tonight like he was going to take the ball out of my hand after that pitch.”

After averaging a season-low 90 mph on his fastball in his last start, Sale got it up to 96 on Friday night and he appears to be getting closer to return to a guy who can throw 110 and get through seven. After all the problems Red Sox starters had in the 2016 and 2017 playoffs, this was a welcome sight. More significantly, it’s got to be a relief for Red Sox fans who fear their own relievers coming in as early as the fifth inning.

The one guy who gave Sale trouble was Aaron Hicks on this night. He walked on six pitches and battled Sale for 11 more before lining a single off a fastball. When he got to first base, however, he bent over in pain, aggravating a hamstring injury. In came Brett Gardner. Boone said we’ll know more about Hicks’ status after an MRI.

Yes, Red Sox fans. Celebrate Martinez and Sale.

Yes, Yankees fans Bemoan Giancarlo Stanton striking out four times. But it also was your bullpen that threw six innings of shutout ball.

Cora took out Sale after singles by Andrew McCutchen and Giancarlo Stanton in the sixth. And from there, wow, it was scarier than a horror movie. It was Nightmare on Bullpen Street, folks. Yeah, it was Friday The 13th (the sixth and seventh innings combined).

In a two-run sixth (both runs were charged to Sale), Ryan Brasier allowed an RBI single to Luke Voit, threw a wild pitch and walked the nearly unwalkable Miguel Andujar. Cora gave Brasier the hook, but Brandon Workman promptly walked the bases full on four pitches.

New England held its breath as Gleyber Torres worked a 3-1 count. But Workman got a called second strike and Torres took a long sweeping miss at a knuckle curve. New Hampshire exhaled. So did Massachusetts.

Too soon. In a one-run seventh, New England was turning blue again. Workman gave up opening singles to McCutchen and Judge. Cora yanked him, too. In came, UConn’s Matt Barnes. I got to be honest, the thought crossed my mind he may go the way of the football Huskies’ defense.

Barnes uncorked a wild pitch to move the runners to second and third. He walked Gardner to fill the bases. Half of Connecticut was now turning wicked shades of UConn national flag blue. Barnes struck out Stanton on a curveball, got Voit to hit into a field’s choice that did score a run and Didi Gregorius to bounce out to second.

Red Sox pitchers seemed to think the plate was only 58-6 away instead of 60-6.

“We put Sandy Leon through the ringer,” Sale said. “Look at how many balls we threw in the dirt. He was as solid as you can possibly be behind the plate.”

It’s fitting Leon wears a mask. It might have been a tribute to Jason Voorhees. The bullpen scared the life out of New England.

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