Holt celebrates after scoring the first run of Sunday's game (Washington Post)
The Red Sox put their fans through a lot of pain and suffering this summer. But on a beautiful fall weekend in New England, they treated the Fenway Faithful to their best baseball of the season.
With Baltimore in town for the season's final series at the Fens, Boston did not allow a single run in the three-game set. In just their third sweep of the season (all at home), they had more shutouts in one weekend than they did in the previous three months.
Friday night featured another dominant start by Rich Hill, who has struck out 10 batters in each of his three starts since joining the Red Sox two weeks ago. The area-native was near-perfect, allowing just two hits and one walk as he breezed through a tough Orioles lineup. Boston backed him up with plenty of run support, breaking through for three runs in the sixth to send Kevin Gausman to the showers and give Hill a 5-0 advantage.
It was 7-0 when he came back out for the ninth, seeking his first complete game shutout since 2006 and just the second of his career. He nearly lost it with one out to go when Chris Davis launched his 116th pitch of the evening towards the right field bullpen, only to be saved by a spectacular leaping catch at the wall by Mookie Betts--the kind of catch Torii Hunter just missed making two Octobers ago.
If Hill's shutout was unexpected, surely nobody thought the Sox would get another one on Saturday--Boston's bullpen day. Interim manager Torey Luvollo gave Craig Breslow his first career start. Breslow--terrible this year and last out--baffled the O's through four in the longest outing of his career. A half-dozen relievers followed him out of the bullpen as Heath Embree worked out of a two-on, two-out jam in the fifth, Matt Barnes kept Baltimore at Bay in the sixth and seventh, and a different pitcher recorded each of the three outs in the eighth. 24 year-old rookie Jonathan Aro closed out the ninth,.
Once again Boston's bats were quiet in the first half of the game but erupted in the second. Held scoreless by Wei-Yin Chen through four, the Red Sox got on the board thanks to a RBI double from Josh Rutledge. Though they left the bases loaded, their bats had come alive and would add another run in the sixth, two more in the seventh, and four in a lead-padding bottom of the eighth. Only two of Boston's eight runs were earned, however, as Baltimore committed three errors in the field.
That sloppy defense persisted on Sunday, as Orioles outfielders lost a pair of fly balls in the early-autumn sun. Neither time did the Red Sox capitalize, though they did break the ice on a wild pitch by the notoriously erratic Ubaldo Jimenez, who has led his league in that dubious statistic twice in the past five years. His errant offering to Big Papi bounced up off the glove of Caleb Joseph, rolling far away enough for Brock Holt to score easily off his terrific jump. Boston doubled its lead on a Blake Swihart home run--his third of the season, and that proved plenty on a sleepy afternoon for both offenses.
Because while Jimenez was actually quite good, Henry Owens was even better. For the second time in 12 days, he pitched 7 and 2/3 scoreless against the Orioles. It was, according to GameScore, the best outing of his young career, which consists of the 10 starts he's made since his early August call-up. He's now gone at least seven in each of his last three starts after doing so just once in his first seven.
Owens walked off the mound to a thunderous cheer from the Fenway crowd (paid attendance: 33,306), but that was nothing compared to the receptions given to Larry Lucchino and Don Orsillo. Both received outstanding video tributes as well as a big hand from the fans. But while Lucchino was named honorary President/CEO and threw out the first pitch, it was Orsillo who felt the warm, loving embrace of the fans. Sad to see their popular play-by-play announcer go, the Fenway Faithful followed a stirring highlight reel of Orsillo's most memorable calls and hijinks (which NESN, true to form, did not show) with a full-throated standing ovation. Many of whom hoisted cutout images of of the recently-fired TV commentator's face, while even more chanted his name. Orsillo returned the salute with one of his own, grateful for the groundswell of support he's received throughout this entire episode, then sat in silence, momentarily unable to describe what was happening on the field.
It hasn't been a pretty year for the Red Sox, a season most would like to soon forget. But yesterday, which ended with thousands of fans circling the bases as the sun set over their beloved ballpark, was one that many, myself included, will always remember.
We'll miss you, Don (ESPN)