ATLANTA -- The bullpen that always seems to be under scrutiny was asked to complete a taxing job on Monday afternoon and it came through in a big way. The offense that never seems far from an eruption made its presence felt with a late-game barrage.
For the Red Sox, it added up to a satisfying 8-2 triumph over the National League East-leading Braves on Labor Day at SunTrust Park.
Xander Bogaerts continued his season-long dominance with the bases loaded (8-for-12, 27 RBIs) by clocking a two-run double in the top of the ninth to open up breathing room in what had been a pretty tight game throughout. The Braves were the latest team to load them up for Bogaerts by issuing an intentional walk to American League MVP candidate J.D. Martinez.
"Man, I think that's kind of happened a lot this year, especially lately," said Bogaerts. "Honestly, I know [Martinez] has some great numbers, but sometimes I don't understand why they do it."
Clearly, Bogaerts isn't complaining about the strategy.
"No, no, I think I'm more happy," Bogaerts said. "I get a chance to drive someone in, try to hit it to the outfield somewhere. I don't know why they do it, but I like it."
To get to the point where the bats could put the Red Sox over the top in the late innings, the bullpen had to hold things down all day.
To put it kindly, starter Nathan Eovaldi was not pitch efficient, making 86 of them in just 3 1/3 innings.
This left manager Alex Cora in the unenviable position of having to ask his relievers to get the final 17 outs against a quality team. And that's what they did, with Brandon Workman, Steven Wright, Joe Kelly, Ryan Brasier, Richard Hembree, Matt Barnes and Craig Kimbrel combining to close it out for the 95-44 Red Sox.
Ian Kinsler took some of the stress away from the relief crew by belting a two-run single to right with two outs in the eighth to open up a three-run cushion. It was part of a three-RBI day for Kinsler, who has heated up (11 hits in his last 27 at-bats) of late.
"Anytime you contribute offensively it's a lot of fun. When you're winning games, it's a lot of fun," said Kinsler. "That's really it. It comes down to wins. If you're contributing to those wins, it's fun. If you're not, it's still fun. Wins are fun."
After getting no-hit for the first four innings by Touki Toussaint, the Red Sox came out swinging in the fifth. Eduardo Nunez got it all started by belting a one-out double. Kinsler and Christian Vazquez then followed with RBI doubles. With two outs, Mookie Betts ripped an RBI single to left and Boston suddenly had a 3-0 lead.
"This team can do it at any point," said Kinsler. "That's the great thing about this offense is that it's electric and that it can happen quickly."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Hembree clamps down: Though the Red Sox wound up winning the game comfortably, things were sticky in the bottom of the seventh, when Cora brought on Hembree with runners at the corners and two outs and his team clinging to a 3-2 lead. Facing the dangerous Ozzie Albies, who had gone deep earlier in the day, Hembree blew a 94.5-mph fastball by the second baseman to end the threat. Hembree has stranded 26 of 33 inherited runners this season.
"I had a pretty good game plan," said Hembree. "I was basically just going to stick to my strengths. It's good to come in and get a punchout. I was able to elevate a fastball and he swung and missed. I like those situations."
The Red Sox continue to be a force against NL foes. They are 33-8 in their last 41 games in Interleague Play, including 23-4 in their last 27. The Sox haven't lost any of their last 11 series against NL teams.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Though it wasn't Eovaldi's best day, Cora appreciated the job the righty did pitching on just two days' rest after his last start was abbreviated by a rain delay. And Eovaldi certainly had plenty in the tank in the first, when he struck out leadoff batter Ronald Acuna Jr. on a 100.9-mph fastball. According to Statcast™, that was the fastest pitch by a starting pitcher on a strikeout pitch this season.
"It's hot out there and he only had two days and for him to compete at that level, that was good too," said Cora.
HE SAID IT
"We're trying to get home-field advantage, that's the big thing. You want to get home-field advantage for the playoffs. Until that's finalized, there's no stopping here." -- Kinsler, on the stretch run
Righty Rick Porcello, who has been hit hard of late, will try to get back on track when he starts Tuesday against the Braves at SunTrust Park. In his last three starts, Porcello is 0-2 with a 6.35 ERA and has given up four home runs. Porcello has generally been effective on the road this season, going 9-3 with a 3.88 ERA in 16 starts. The Braves counter with lefty Sean Newcomb. First pitch is scheduled for 7:35 p.m. ET.