BALTIMORE — Even now, as the wins pile up and the division lead swells, the Boston Red Sox’s starting rotation has a top-heavy feel that inspires a few verses reminiscent of another Boston baseball team from a bygone era.
“Spahn and Sain and pray for rain?” Try “Porcello and Price and roll the dice.”
Well, unless Eduardo Rodriguez keeps pitching the way he did here Tuesday night.
The Red Sox are pulling away in the American League East after their sixth consecutive victory, 5-2 over the Baltimore Orioles, so they might have the luxury of organizing their rotation entering the playoffs. Given their druthers, David Price and Rick Porcello — likely in that order — would start the first two games of a postseason series.
Game 3, though, is anybody’s guess. Based on his last two starts, lefty Drew Pomeranz is gassed after exceeding his previous career high for innings pitched in a single season. If there’s one thing the Red Sox know about right-hander Clay Buchholz, it’s that he’s reliably unreliable. And the only door knuckleballer Steven Wright is walking through these days is the clubhouse in Fort Myers, Florida, where he continues his recovery from bursitis in his right shoulder, the product of an ill-fated pinch-running mishap last month at Dodger Stadium.
That leaves Rodriguez, the talented but still inconsistent 23-year-old lefty who struggled so badly earlier in the season after returning from a spring training knee injury that he was sent to Triple-A. And although he has been far more effective since the All-Star break (3.21 ERA in 12 starts), he’s still prone to the poorly timed stinker, such as his four-run, 2 1/3-inning dud against the New York Yankees last week.
But if Tuesday night was an audition for a Game 3 start, Rodriguez acquitted himself well. Staked to an early two-run lead on Jackie Bradley Jr.’s 26th homer of the season — “Not too shabby for a defensive specialist,” Bradley said, nodding to his critics — Rodriguez didn’t give up a hit until the fifth inning and pitched into the seventh. At that point the Red Sox had taken a 5-1 lead on David Ortiz’s 539th career homer.
And so that’s what he did. Instead of fuming, arms crossed in the dugout, Upton watched some of Detroit’s best hitters approach the plate with a more focused level of detail. He found himself studying Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez, not just in their respective at-bats, but in the moments before as well.