BOSTON -- Christopher Johnson's pitching style is about as flashy as his statline was on Friday night. In other words, not flashy at all.
But Johnson is all about substance, and it's been this way all season. The invaluable swingman was again there when his team needed him, pitching the Red Sox to a 7-3 victory over the Rays in the opener of a seven-game homestand.
The lefty gave up three runs (all in the first inning) over 5 2/3 innings to earn the win. Working with a fastball that averaged 88.2 mph and topped out at 90.8, Johnson gave up five hits, walked two and struck out two. And it was enough.
"He's been able to step in and give us quality starts," said Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. "Any time you have that, being able to minimize damage, and he's been able to go deep in games as well ... it's very helpful for the team."
Johnson has made nine starts for the Red Sox this season, going 4-1 with a 3.40 ERA in those outings. He has successfully filled in at a time when Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright have served extended stints on the disabled list and Thomas Pomeranz's season-long struggles have pushed him to the bullpen.
Though Johnson's relief numbers (0-2, 4.94 ERA in 22 appearances) have been skewed by a couple of tough outings, he has also been valuable when needed out the bullpen.
"He has been important for us the whole season," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "I mentioned it the other day, guys who have made the difference. Well, all of them, obviously, but he's been great, from the start in Miami to the start in Washington to the hit in Washington.
"He was able to come in in relief in Baltimore [last weekend], and he gives up three [in the first tonight], I'm like, 'That's probably on me.' We've been pushing him in every direction, but he's been able to make adjustments. Same deal with the Yankees [start]. He did it, and he's giving us a chance to win the ballgame as a starter."
While the monster seasons of Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and Chris Sale have stood out the most for a juggernaut that improved to 87-36, role players like Johnson have also been important.
Xander Bogaerts is another player who has been overshadowed at times. He had a big night on Friday, belting a triple and two doubles with two RBIs.
"When he's not chasing pitches, he becomes an elite hitter," Cora said.
And not only did Bradley have two hits, including an insurance RBI double, but he also made his latest sensational catch to take extra bases away from Tommy Pham on the top of the third.
Meanwhile, the Sox continue to roll on, with 12 wins in their past 14 games and 16 in their past 19.
In this one, they made the early deficit disappear in a hurry. Bogaerts belted a two-run triple in the first, and Eduardo Nunez delivered an RBI single in the fourth to tie it. Mitch Moreland put Boston up for good with a single in the fifth.
"Whenever you give up three, come back and score two, you can feel the momentum come back in our dugout," said Johnson. "That's when you know you just have to put zeros out there any way you can."
The Red Sox are a blistering 43-15 at home.
"Yeah, I mean, we were at home. We play a lot better at home," said Bogaerts. "It doesn't matter the score, it feels like. The at-bats really start to get better once we're down because we know the urgency of coming back and putting some runs up."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The biggest hit of the night was the two-run triple by Bogaerts because it almost erased the three-run deficit entirely and it was such a swift answer to the tough first inning for Johnson. Bogaerts worked an eight-pitch at-bat that ended with him blistering a 99.4-mph heater by Ryne Stanek off the wall in center.
"I feel like he's one of the best shortstops in the big leagues. Offensively, we like this guy," said Cora. "We like the .275 and driving the ball all over the place. It was a great day for his OPS."
The Red Sox are the 14th team in MLB's modern era (1901 to the present) to win as many as 87 of the first 123 games. Of the previous 13, 12 went on to win their league's pennant, and six won the World Series.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Bradley continued his season-long act of dazzling plays when he raced to the wall in left-center, timed his leap perfectly and snagged what would have been an extra-base hit by Pham. As Bradley finished the play, he went tumbling in front of the 379-foot marker on the wall, just where the Green Monster intersects with the lower wall in center. The crowd roared with approval as Bradley came up with his latest gem. More >
Lefty David Price, who is in the middle of his best stretch of the season, will try to keep it going on Saturday night against his original team -- the Rays. Price is 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA in his past five starts. Last time out, he was brilliant at Baltimore, firing six shutout innings, walking none and striking out 10. The Rays counter with righty Tyler Glasnow. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. ET.