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Red Sox 4, Rays 3: This bullpen isn’t that bad, after all

04.17.17 at 2:13 pm ET
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Ben Taylor (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Ben Taylor (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The hold-your-breath feeling is still there. That’s what happens when you have all but one guy trying to do something on a regular basis that they’ve never consistently been asked to do.

But try as we might to ignore what this Red Sox bullpen is doing, it’s getting more and more apparent that there might be something here. All of a sudden, you have a bunch of relievers who carry the fourth-best ERA in the majors (1.84) and the third-best batting average against in the bigs. And they still have given up just one home run.

“Once they get a little success, their confidence is starting to grow,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “And I think they settle into that pecking order that has emerged. It still comes down to executing, which they’ve done a very good job at.”

The latest resume builder came Monday morning/afternoon in the Red Sox’ 4-3 win over the Rays at Fenway Park. (For a complete recap of the game, click here.)

With Steven Wright’s day finally coming to an end after leaving following a Tim Beckham leadoff single to kick off the seventh inning, Robbie Ross Jr. came on clinging to a two-run lead. He was greeted by a fluky ground-rule double from Corey Dickerson that shortstop Xander Bogaerts should have caught down the left field line.

But with runners on second and third and still nobody out, Ross Jr. came back to strike out Kevin Kiermaier, paving the way for an intentional walk to Evan Longoria.

With Matt Barnes and Joe Kelly presumably unavailable, Farrell turned to a guy who had just been summoned to join the Red Sox at about 9 a.m., Ben Taylor. Taylor did allow an RBI single to Steven Souza Jr., but came back to induce an inning-ending fly out to right field off the bat of lefty hitter Logan Morrison.

“I was actually putting gas in the car, ready to go to Pawtucket to get on the bus to get on a plane to go to Charlotte,” said Taylor of when he found out about the promotion. “I got a call from [Kevin Boles} Bolesy, our manager, and he told me I was coming up here for the day. I drove over here as quick as I could.”

Taylor paved the way for Farrell’s other late-inning right-hander, Heath Hembree, who hadn’t pitched since Thursday. Hembree cruised through the eighth against three straight right-handers, sandwiching strikeouts vs. Rickie Weeks Jr. and Beckham around a Derek Norris fly out.

“You want to pitch in those late innings, tight-ballgame roles,” Hembree said. “But anyone in the bullpen can do that. Everybody down there has quality stuff. We’re not surprised.”

Then came the one guy who was being counted on to offer a bit less uncertainty, Craig Kimbrel. And the closer once again managed to do exactly that.

Kimbrel converted his 25th straight save opportunity, which is the second-longest streak the majors, while making it 21 in a row at Fenway Park. This time the closer struck out the side to punctuate the win. He became the first Red Sox pitcher since Mike Timlin in 2006 to notch three saves in a single series.

So, is Farrell surprised that he has ended up with this bullpen?

“No, because it’s one that has good stuff,” the manager said. “When you anchor it with a guy who is an elite closer in Craig it allows those roles to emerge. As long as they execute there is a lot of big league stuff out there. There’s power. There’s the ability to match-up. Robby Scott has come in in some key moments and gotten some key outs. I’ll tell you, it’s a pretty strong vote of confidence to bring a kid like Ben Taylor into a spot like that knowing he’s going to throw strikes and quality strikes. They’re pitching well.”

Shattering Perceptions Game Note Image

Wright walked off the mound having surrendered two runs over six innings, with both of those scores coming in an uncomfortable 31-pitch first inning. He did leave with the lead, however, with the Red Sox scoring one in the first and three more in the second against Tampa Bay starter Blake Snell. Andrew Benintendi capped his successful homestand (12-for-28) with three more hits.

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