Pitching backs up Sox in shutout win over Orioles

September 12th, 2022

BALTIMORE -- Taking the mound following a one-hour, 12-minute rain delay, left-hander Rich Hill worked fast and mixed his pitches, never allowing the Orioles to get into a rhythm, and the Red Sox hung on for a 1-0 win in the series finale on Sunday at Oriole Park.

One day after scoring season-high 17 runs on a season-high 21 hits, the Red Sox relied on the mastery of Hill and clutch relief pitching to win their 10th road series, on a day when they managed just four hits -- all singles.

Early on, Hill mixed the four-seam with the cutter and curveball. He got off to a good start with strikeouts of the Orioles’ first two batters: Ryan McKenna and Anthony Santander. Ryan Mountcastle got a hold of Hill’s 84 mph cutter that was caught against the wall by left fielder Tommy Pham for the third out in the first.

"Connor [Wong] obviously did a great job behind the dish keeping us on track, and we stuck with that cutter and that fastball mix, so it worked really well today, sprinkling in some curveballs,” Hill said. “I think having that cutter be a part of the repertoire has been really helpful.”

Later as the rain steadily misted, Hill (7-6) built momentum by focusing on mixing the four-seam with the curveball. He worked around a walk to McKenna and a single by Santander to get Mountcastle again to fly out to left field and end a third-inning threat.

The left-handed veteran fired five scoreless innings, allowing only two hits, walking three and striking out seven with one hit batter. It was a bounceback performance, after surrendering four or more runs in four of his last six starts. His biggest strikeout was a drop-down slider to strikeout Mountcastle to end his outing.

"I tried to go a little bit underneath and try to up shoot it a little bit more,” Hill said. “Any time you can change speeds and quick pitch, slow pitch, hesitate, have the ball come out of your hand the way you want to, it's a good day for the feel. Conditions weren't ideal, obviously, but we all had to deal with it and you go out there and put that behind you and make pitches."

Of his 77 pitches, Hill mixed velocity and location with his 90 mph four-seamer, 84 mph cutter, an 82 mph changeup, 72 mph curveball and a stunningly slow 68 mph slider. Hill threw eight sliders and got complete whiffs on four of them.

Manager Alex Cora on Hill’s slow pitch slider: "That's why I do believe he can pitch until whenever he wants to or his family lets him. You see him physically, he stays in great shape. We've been talking a little bit the last five or six days about his stuff and how he compares to others.”

Cora believes that Hill would be a welcome addition for the United States team in next year’s World Baseball Classic and has spoken to Team USA manager Mark DeRosa about the veteran southpaw.

“I do believe he can get people out in this league whenever he feels like it,” Cora said. “Actually, we talked about the WBC next year. He really wants to do it."

The bullpen did its job, highlighted by Matt Strahm’s strikeout of the Orioles dangerous hitter Santander with Rougned Odor standing on third base to preserve the lead in the seventh. John Schreiber allowed a base hit but no runs in the sixth, while Garrett Whitlock struck out two batters in the eighth. Matt Barnes also had two punchouts in the ninth for his fifth save.

"We joke [that] we may not throw the hardest but we have the most funk for sure in our bullpen,” Strahm said. “Whitlock's extension is ridiculous and then you got Schreiber throwing from his hip. We are a bunch of funk and go right at you."

Cora said Barnes’ confidence in his fastball has been the key to his recent return to form with four shutout appearances in a row.

"The fastball is important for him and that's what he did early in the season last year,” Cora said. “He pounded the strike zone with that fastball. It's a good one. When he can locate that one, he sets everything up. You saw it with Mullins at the end."

Pham’s leadoff single in the first inning led to the Red Sox only run, extending his on-base streak to 17 games. Xander Bogaerts brought him home on a sac fly to center field for the 1-0 lead.