After being swept in a doubleheader on Sunday, in which the Red Sox scraped across just three runs, manager Alex Cora noticed the wear and tear of the schedule weighing on his players. They’d played 11 day games in their first 16, including a pair of doubleheaders in the past week.
The 11:10 a.m. ET start on Patriots’ Day didn’t appear to be coming at the best time.
“Just one more day,” Cora told his players. “Grind it out one more day.”
The Red Sox responded by opening the floodgates at Fenway Park with a seven-hit, six-run first inning in an 11-4 win to earn a series split with the White Sox.
Boston’s first six batters hit safely against Chicago starter Lucas Giolito, who had allowed just five runs in his first three outings this season. Enrique Hernández led off with a homer over the Green Monster -- which barely cleared, and had initially been ruled in play -- and that gave way to a quintet of singles.
“The line kept moving,” Cora said of his offense, which matched a season high in hits (17). “Probably the best inning of this short season. Line drive after line drive, quality at-bat after quality at-bat, against a good pitcher.”
The at-bat of the inning, though, might’ve belonged to Bobby Dalbec, the Red Sox rookie whose strikeout rate is in the bottom four percent of the league, per Statcast. Dalbec fouled off eight pitches to work a 14-pitch walk and roll the lineup over. Since 1988, when the pitch-count era began, only three Sox batters -- including the club's present-day manager -- have had longer at-bats that resulted in walks (all were 15 pitches).
“That was a game-changer,” Cora said. “Got that pitch count way up there. We had [Giolito] on the ropes, and we were able to put him away.”
Indeed, Dalbec’s patience, paired with a bundle of base knocks ensured that Giolito would not last long. J.D. Martinez homered for the sixth time to lead off the second, and Rafael Devers followed with a walk, which ended Giolito’s day after 54 pitches in one-plus innings.
Nathan Eovaldi surely enjoyed the outpouring of run support, but he didn’t need most of it. The flamethrowing righty fanned 10 in 6 1/3 innings, matching a career high in strikeouts. That included a punchout of Nick Madrigal, who hadn’t struck out in his previous 42 at-bats (the Majors’ longest active streak).
The early cushion allowed Eovaldi to do what he does best: shoot strikes. Of his 100 offerings on the day, 75 found the zone. He challenged the White Sox hitters to beat him, and they couldn’t.
“[When] we’re up 6-1, it’s like, I’m not worried about giving up runs; I’m worried about getting those guys back in the dugout and getting [our] guys hitting again,” he said.
Eovaldi couldn’t recall a time in which he had to pitch so early in the day as a Major Leaguer, but he was well prepared for the morning start. In the final few days leading up to Monday, Eovaldi woke up at 7 a.m. to “get the body moving” and condition himself. He only needed one coffee on the morning of his start, versus his more typical two or three.
“I mean, I’m tired in the afternoon, but at these key hours I was locked in and ready to go,” he said. “I'm a morning person, anyways. I love coffee, so I wake up and enjoy it.”
Maybe the Red Sox (11-6) as a collective are morning people, given their first-place start in the American League East on a steady diet of early games. That’s about to change, though, as Tuesday’s matchup with Toronto opens a stretch of nine night games in Boston’s next 11.
“Tomorrow, it feels like finally the schedule is [close to] normal,” Cora said. “For them to show up today on a special day here and play that way, that was eye-opening and fun to watch.”