PHILADELPHIA -- A pitcher winning 20 games may not mean as much to some as it used to, but Eduardo Rodriguez's outing in Saturday's 2-1 victory over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park epitomized why it's a feat still cherished by many within Major League clubhouses.
"A lot of people talk about 20 wins like, ‘What is 20 wins?’" Red Sox manager Alex Cora said prior to the game. "Well, you should ask the starters and the people who start 30 games in the big leagues how they feel about winning 20 games. I think everybody is pulling for him to do that."
Perhaps that's why Cora opted to let Rodriguez remain in the game to hit against Phillies ace Aaron Nola with the bases loaded, two outs and Boston clinging to a 1-0 lead in the seventh inning. Rodriguez, who had thrown just 80 pitches to that point, was 0-for-20 with 10 strikeouts (including the postseason) prior to that at-bat. He went down swinging to strand the bases loaded.
"I think the best two curveballs I’ve ever seen were the one Rich Hill threw me in the World Series and the two that Nola threw me right there," said Rodriguez, who had dropped down a successful sacrifice bunt in his previous at-bat. "At least I got the bunt down. That’s something I feel proud about. At least I can bunt. But hit? No chance.”
Cora said he had actually considered pinch-hitting for his No. 8 hitter, Gorkys Hernández, with the bags full and one out, but he decided to save his pinch-hit options for later in the game, with Mookie Betts unavailable and Brock Holt feeling ill. Hernandez grounded into a forceout, with the Phillies throwing out J.D. Martinez at the plate, and Rodriguez followed with his strikeout.
Still, thanks to Christian Vázquez's RBI double earlier in the inning, Rodriguez took the mound in the bottom half of the frame in line for his 18th win. He would instead depart with two outs and no chance to earn a victory after he airmailed a 3-2 changeup to Maikel Franco to walk in the tying run. That was the only walk of the night for Rodriguez, who allowed just one run over 6 2/3 innings, while striking out a season-high 12 batters.
“I feel like, as a pitcher, that’s the worst way to give up a run -- bases loaded and you walk somebody," Rodriguez said. "I feel like that’s the worst way to do it, so I decided to throw that changeup right down the middle, but I missed the location and I walked the guy.”
“He aimed that one," Cora said. "He’ll tell you that’s probably the worst changeup in his career."
That left Rodriguez with a no-decision, which comes on the heels of a hard-luck loss his last time out. Rodriguez allowed just one run over six innings Monday against the Yankees, while striking out nine, but took the loss in a 5-0 defeat. That gives him a 1.42 ERA and 21 strikeouts over 12 2/3 innings in his last two starts -- but zero wins.
Rodriguez will need to win each of his final three starts this season -- one each against the Giants, Rangers and Orioles -- to reach 20 wins. He's trying to join Rick Porcello (2016) as the only Red Sox pitchers in the last decade to win 20 games. Even going back 40 years, the only other Boston hurlers to do so in that span are Josh Beckett (‘07), Curt Schilling (‘04), Derek Lowe (‘02), Pedro Martinez (twice) and Roger Clemens (three times).
“I’ve still got three more starts, so there’s a chance," said Rodriguez, who has thrown 185 1/3 innings this season. "But my real goal is 200 innings. That’s my real goal right now. Wins and losses, I mean, you see that game, 1-0 game and I give up a run. Wins depend on how the game goes.
"If 20 happens, it happens. If not, I’m just happy with what I get.”
Regardless of whether Rodriguez joins the 20-win club, he's certainly established himself as a front-of-the-rotation starter and a key piece of Boston's future. He's allowed either one run or no runs in five of his last six starts, lowering his season ERA from 4.31 to 3.64 in the process.
"Excellent again. His stuff was outstanding," Cora said. "He’s throwing like an ace.”
Rodriguez wasn't ready to go that far, though his 2.78 ERA over his last 18 starts might suggest otherwise.
“We have the real aces on this team,” he said. “I just feel like I’m part of the team. You know those guys with the numbers they have. If they were healthy, they’d have way better numbers than I have. They’re hurt, so everybody is saying that. But that’s what I think.”