ST. PETERSBURG -- The winning pitcher (Hector Velazquez) in Sunday's tense, 2-1 victory over the Rays was purchased by the Red Sox out of the Mexican League just over a year ago.The first reliever (Marcus Walden) used by manager Alex Cora was making his Major League debut after spending the
ST. PETERSBURG -- The winning pitcher (Hector Velazquez) in Sunday's tense, 2-1 victory over the Rays was purchased by the Red Sox out of the Mexican League just over a year ago.
The first reliever (Marcus Walden) used by manager Alex Cora was making his Major League debut after spending the previous 11 years in the Minor Leagues.
The second reliever (Bobby Poyner) Cora went to had just made his debut the night before -- a 14th-round Draft pick who had never pitched above Double-A before this weekend.
And the temporary closer (Joe Kelly) notched his first career save by battling out of trouble in the ninth and erasing the bitter taste of perhaps the worst relief performance of his career on Opening Day.
This was a satisfying way for the Red Sox to take three out of four against the Rays, with each victory coming by just a run. It ended with Kelly striking out Denard Span with runners at the corners and two outs in the ninth.
"It was great," said Cora. "We got all those outs from Velazquez, Walden and Poyner, which is a testament to the organization. These guys, one is 29, the other one hasn't pitched above Double-A, and the other guy, he was signed out of Mexico.
"For the organization to see these guys and feel that they can contribute at the big league level, it's outstanding."
The fact the Red Sox won three games while scoring a total of six runs is something they can feel good about on that short flight to Miami. The offense will heat up. In the meantime, the pitching is carrying the day.
Velazquez, who is in the rotation due to injuries to Eduardo Rodriguez, Thomas Pomeranz and Steven Wright, set the tone with 5 2/3 innings, allowing five hits and a run while walking one and striking out five. In the four-game series, Boston's starters allowed two earned runs over 24 innings.
"Honestly, it's been a dream," Velazquez said through interpreter Daveson Perez. "I appreciate every day that I get to be here. Looking around at all of the teammates I have in this locker room, I see them all as idols. I feel truly fortunate to be here."
Then there was Walden, who impressed Cora enough throughout Spring Training to beat out the more established Brandon Workman for a spot in the bullpen. The righty got four big outs, working around one hit, before handing off to Poyner.
"A lot of bus rides," said Walden. "But definitely, being able to be considered a big leaguer now and have that debut, it's an honor."
For the second night in a row, Poyner did his job, retiring Kevin Kiermaier on a flyout to open the eighth. Matt Barnes, who was dominant throughout the series, struck out two to set up the ninth.
Ace closer Craig Kimbrel had pitched the previous two days, so Cora handed the ball to Kelly for the first time since everything went so wrong on Thursday.
"For us to accomplish what we set out to accomplish, he's a big part of that bullpen," said Cora.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
J.D.'s first Red Sox RBI: The Red Sox acquired J.D. Martinez to be their best run producer, and the slugger delivered in the top of the fifth with a RBI single to left that tied the game at 1. It was Martinez's first RBI with the Red Sox, and it came on an 0-2 slider by Rays starter Jake Faria. Martinez nearly had another big hit in the sixth, but left fielder Mallex Smith robbed him on a diving catch.
Missed op: With two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Matt Duffy stood on first, and Joey Wendle was the batter. Wendle lined a ball into the right-field corner, and Duffy circled the bases. But he was stopped at third by third-base coach Matt Quatraro. That left runners on second and third, and the Rays one run shy of tying the game. Wilson Ramos then flied out to right to end the inning. Did the Red Sox expect Duffy to try to score?
"I'm not their third-base coach. It's their decision," Cora said.
Kelly buckles down for final out: Clinging to that slim 2-1 margin, Kelly allowed a single to Adeiny Hechavarria that put runners at the corners with two outs. Up stepped Span, who had devastated the Red Sox on Opening Day with a three-run triple to right to highlight a six-run eighth inning. After throwing five straight fastballs 96 mph and above to work the count full, Kelly came back with an 87.8-mph changeup that Span swung through to end the game. And it only ended the game because Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez blocked it in the dirt and prevented it from going to the backstop.
"Hechavarria is going to take off, so Christian did a good job blocking that pitch," said Cora. "Is it a strikeout or a walk? You don't want him to put the ball in play in that situation, and they didn't. He did an outstanding job with that pitch."
"Our starting pitching have done an outstanding job. It was amazing. Outstanding. We put good at-bats today, squared some balls up. Should've scored more runs. As long as the defense is there and we make the plays, we're going to hang in close games and be able to win." -- Cora
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the first time in the 118-year history of the Red Sox that the starting pitchers have allowed one run or fewer in each of the first four games of the season.
The Red Sox will head to Miami for a two-game series that starts on Monday at 7:10 p.m. ET. Left-hander Christopher Johnson, a Florida native, will have many friends and family members in the stands. Johnson, who hit 15 homers in his college career at the University of Florida, is eager to swing the bat again.
Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.