NEW YORK — It wasn’t pretty, but the Red Sox bullpen twice held on against the most home-run happy team to grace the regular season in major league history. The Sox ‘pen bent in Games 1 and 4 of the American League Division Series, but never did break, a big home run to Gary Sanchez that put Game 2 out of reach aside.
The expected weakness of the Sox, who are four wins from the World Series, indeed looked vulnerable. But the relief corps also came through well enough to send the Red Sox past a fellow 100-win team in the Yankees.
“We were able to slip guys in,” Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Tuesday night. “I think our bullpen did a fine job during the postseason. Craig [Kimbrel] struggled today. It doesn’t happen too often, but when you get to that point with your closer, that’s who you’re trying to get to and you look at it today and most of the series, they did a really fine job.”
Those who pitched in relief for the Red Sox in the DS allowed seven runs in 17 innings (a 3.71 ERA) with 17 strikeouts and 11 walks. There were 11 hits given up, two of them home runs, and opponents hit .183 against them.
“We figured we would use some starters at times, you can do that with some of the time,” Dombrowski said. “And also we had to do even do a little bit more adjustments, because we felt that we would have Steven Wright, but he was a loss for us. But our guys were able to juggle that and Alex [Cora] did a good job handling the ‘pen to get us ready to use the guys and [Heath] Hembree stepped in and pitched well for us.”
The Yankees, who had many bigger names in their ‘pen, had a 4.91 ERA in relief in the series — but most of that was concentrated in a disastrous Game 3. Of the 12 earned runs Yankees relievers were charged in the series, 10 were in Game 3 (and that includes Austin Romine’s performance.)
Craig Kimbrel was on the verge of a meltdown in the ninth inning Tuesday night, when two runs scored to cut the 4-1 lead he began the frame with to 4-3. A huge strikeout of Giancarlo Stanton — whom the Red Sox did not allow to homer in the series — in the inning helped Kimbrel escape trouble, and the game ended on a great play from Eduardo Nunez at third base, plus a stretch from Steve Pearce at first base.
“Nerve-racking,” Rick Porcello said of the ninth. “I was on the railing and I had to step back and sit on the bench, ‘cause I couldn’t watch. Just ‘cause you know I’m so nervous. But Craig did a hell of a job. … It was awesome.”
Porcello said he had never been that nervous in a game before.
“I’m not going out there trying to do that,” Kimbrel said. “I’m trying to have a 1-2-3 inning but it doesn’t always work out like that. At the end of the day we got the win and we’re looking forward to Houston.”
Kimbrel was one of two regular Sox relievers — not a converted starter — to allow an earned run in the series, with three in 2 1/3 innings. Brandon Workman allowed one.
In an encouraging sign, the other usual late-inning relievers from the regular season, like Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Heath Hembree and Joe Kelly, combined for 9 2/3 innings with no earned runs and just two hits allowed. They walked six and fanned eight.
The only game the Sox allowed inherited runners to score was in Game 1, when three of seven came home. Four inherited runners were stranded in Game 2, the only other game Sox relievers had inherited runners.
The Yanks, meanwhile, allowed seven inherited runners to score, five of them in that Game 3 slopfest.
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