CINCINNATI -- The pregame scene in the Red Sox locker room revealed nothing abnormal. There were players, coaches, and team officials, all focused on preparing to face the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night. But if you looked closer, you could see a precursor to the Boston victory.
After all, it’s Shark Week. And the television inside the locker room was tuned to some meaty tales with lurking predators. Every now and then a player or coach would walk by and glance at the television. Some grimaced. Others stood, captivated. Maybe they were inspired by the tales of sharks stalking their prey.
Because it was pretty similar to what Boston inflicted on the Reds.
First, the Red Sox gave Cincinnati hope: an error, a couple of walks by starting pitcher Joe Kelly, and just like that the Reds thought they were safe, swimming in the shallow waters of a 2-0 lead.
Reds starting pitcher Mat Latos made the lead last, giving up just five hits, one walk and one run in seven innings. When he exited, the story was written. The Red Sox had no answer for the Reds pitcher. Boston was going to put up one meager run.
But then the sharks started circling.
There was Brock Holt starting a rally with a single. Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz tried their best, taking big bites, but neither resulted in a hit. Then came Yoenis Cespedes, the biggest shark in the water.
Reds reliever Jonathan Broxton first gave Cespedes a little chin music, high and tight. Hello Yoenis. But why? Why would anyone want to tease a shark?
“A lot of times pitchers think that when you get a pitch like that -- high and tight on you -- you’re going to back off and get a little flustered, but that’s not how I am,” Cespedes said through an interpreter. “I was able to focus myself even more after that pitch and I was able to get it. More than anything it just makes me focus on the next pitch because you’re just trying to beat the guy after that.”
Chomp. Quick and merciless.
“I’m not saying the (first) pitch was intentional,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “You know, (Broxton) threw the ball up and in on him, but (Cespedes is) looking out over the plate, gets one, squares it up and it’s the difference in this one tonight.”
In a grassy, empty part of center field, 433 feet away from home plate, Cespedes’ ball landed, giving the Red Sox a 3-2 lead they would not relinquish. It was the second straight game Cespedes hit a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning.
Can we agree now that he has made his presence felt in Boston?
“He gives us a certain presence in the middle of the order and a much-needed one,” Farrell said. “And he’s shown he’s a complete player. Having the ability with one swing of the bat to change a game is very important to us.”
But if Cespedes was the star of this Shark Tale, then Kelly would have to be his sidekick. After giving up what could have been the two losing runs in the bottom of the first inning, Kelly settled in, using his secondary pitches for strikes when his fastball didn’t work. A changeup to the Reds’ Brayan Pena induced a double play, which allowed Kelly to strike out Chris Heisey to end the threat.
“Without the secondary stuff, today could’ve been really ugly, so that really saved my behind,” Kelly said. “I was able to flip some curveballs in there for a strike, some slider/cutters in there for a strike. The changeup wasn’t where I wanted it to be, but I made a couple good pitches with it.”
“I thought he had very good stuff tonight -- he had better stuff tonight than over in his first start in St. Louis,” Farrell said. “He might have been a little bit fine early on -- the two walks came back to haunt him a little bit -- but he settled in well and really got into a good rhythm.”
And then, of course, there was the steal. Ahem -- the first steal by a Red Sox pitcher since Bill Landis did it back in 1969.
In the third, Kelly led off the inning with a shot into right field. Holt then bunted him to second. Pedroia then worked a 3-0 count from Latos, and Kelly felt he caught the Reds pitcher napping.
So he took off.
Latos ended up throwing ball four to Pedroia, who took first. But Kelly got his first stolen base.
“I figured since I was in the AL I wouldn’t get very many more chances,” Kelly said. “I always told my team that the Cardinals never let me run because I pulled my hammy. I figured this might be my only opportunity. I saw my opportunity and just took it.”
It all added up to a memorable victory for Boston. Even if Kelly didn’t get the win, he kept his team in it long enough to keep circling. His line: six innings pitched, while giving up five hits, three walks and two earned runs. He struck out four. And, of course, he got his stolen bag.
So what’s the next offensive goal for the pitcher?
“Hit it as far as Cespedes? No, that’s never going to happen,” he joked. “Maybe put it in the air when the wind’s blowing out and get a home run?”
Is he kidding? Maybe. Who really knows?
Sharks are tricky like that.