There was a sense of urgency from the Boston Red Sox during Friday night's contest with the Baltimore Orioles. No, the sense of urgency had nothing to do with the postseason, although their 12-3 victory did bring them one game closer to clinching homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. The real sense of urgency lay behind knowing that they needed to sweep the Orioles in their final series of the season in order to avoid having a losing record against any of their division foes.
The Red Sox wasted little time in taking the first game of the series from the Orioles, winning the nine-inning contest in the first three innings. After three innings, the Red Sox had hit safely 10 times, drawn one walk, and scored eight runs, which accounted for the majority of their offensive output in the game. Most noticeably, four of their 10 hits during the first three innings went for extra bases and four hits came with runners in scoring position. In only one at-bat with a runner in scoring position did the Red Sox fail to drive in a run; with a runner on third base in the first inning, Will Middlebrooks grounded out to the catcher.
Taking advantage of so many run-scoring abilities allowed the Red Sox hitters to attain a level of offensive brilliance that shone so brightly that the team really could have stopped scoring after the first three innings and still won the contest comfortably. When the top of the third inning ended, the Red Sox held a win expectancy of 97.0 percent with almost all of the expectancy attributable to the offense.
Not so brilliant on Friday was the pitching by starter Clay Buchholz, who was not at his most commanding in allowing three earned runs in 7.0 innings. While Buchholz's performance still qualified as a quality start, there was something a bit lacking in his pitching efficiency. During his start, Buchholz struck out just 14.8 percent of the 27 batters he faced, well below his season strikeout percentage of 23.1 percent.
More than the usual number of opposing batters put the ball in play against Buchholz and the Orioles hit an unusually high number of fly balls off of Buchholz's pitches. Orioles hitters combined to hit 12 fly balls, accounting for 52.2 percent of the balls put in play, when Buchholz was on the mound, of which two were home runs. For the season, only 47.4 percent of the balls put in play against Buchholz have been of the fly ball variety and 4.5 percent of those fly balls were home runs.
While the offense was at the top of its game on Friday, Buchholz was having more struggles than we are accustomed to seeing from him this season, in both his standard pitching statistics and his more advanced ones.
However, with the offense demolishing Orioles pitching at almost every turn, there was no real imperative for Buchholz to be on the top of the game. When the offense provides eight runs in support of the starting pitcher, it just needs the pitcher to be serviceable, and serviceable was what Buchholz was on Friday. The result was a victory for the club, and in an outcome-driven event like sports, that is most important.