Bradford: The Red Sox got it right this time around

Rob Bradford
April 12, 2018 - 3:00 am

USA Today Sports

On the surface, this might seem like a mess. Really, it was a test. The Red Sox passed.

Sure, you had one of your most important pitchers (David Price) leave the game after just one inning because of some tingling in his hand. You let the Yankees' confidence resurface thanks to their 10-7 win. And the momentum that was garnered via a nine-game win streak has now suddenly been derailed.

But, bear with me.

The Red Sox found out something about themselves Wednesday night which hadn't yet been defined. They got it right. And at this time of year, this time around, that's gold.

On most nights we would be talking about the optimism stemming from a J.D. Martinez fifth-inning grand slam that put the hosts right back in the thick of things. Or perhaps the 117.3 mph home run hit by Hanley Ramirez in the first? Nope. What unfolded was something that is going to be much more meaningful than another dose of resiliency.

The Red Sox fought back. And this time they did it the right way against the right team. That meant something.

It wasn't complicated. Brock Holt gets spiked, and takes issue with the baserunner who spiked him. A few innings later, Joe Kelly hits the aforementioned player (Tyler Austin) with a 98 mph fastball in the back. The pitch starts a brawl that includes the Red Sox pitcher managing to get the better of his attacker, while somehow being escorted away by two pinstriped twin towers, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.

Seems simple, right? Well think about how convoluted it was a year ago, and where that led the Red Sox.

In that case, Manny Machado basically wrecks Dustin Pedroia's knee on a similar play Holt experienced. The next day the plan was to hit Machado after starter Steven Wright exited the game. But reliever Heath Hembree never got the chance because the coaching staff called off the Code Red, leaving it to Eduardo Rodriguez and Matt Barnes the next day. We know how that worked out. Not well. Both pitchers missed.

Not only were the Red Sox left searching for the right retaliation, but because of the conflicting messages from the coaching staff, the chaos was only amplified, with Dustin Pedroia's on-camera proclamation, and then the teams' cranking up the back-and-forth at Fenway a few days later. It was ugly. Not until Chris Sale put some punctuation on the predicament via a well-placed fastball did the Sox have some semblance of satisfaction.

What that did was leave an uncomfortable undercurrent among many of the players, feeling that the decision-makers were more worried about having to win that day than sticking to the blueprint of a baseball season.

This time, Kelly helped the Sox maintain their big picture mentality.

Can you imagine if the Red Sox didn't act after that Austin slide against the Yankees? If they took the same tact as the year before? It would have simply been unacceptable considering everyone knows this Yankees club is the built-in bad guy. As David Price said after the game, "Red Sox, Yankees. That’s what everybody wants. That’s what they got." He's right. And it was really important it was delivered when it was.

You could sense on social media -- which sometimes offers what kind of heartbeat we're dealing with -- that this was going to be a win for a team that more and more Boston fans are actually starting to care about. Not only did Kelly execute the strategic offering in fine fashion, but then he invited the Yankee to throw fists. The image of the reliever yelling out to Austin, "Let's go!" was what the people wanted more than anything. It might not have been Jason Varitek shoving his glove in Alex Rodriguez's face, but it was along the same lines.

Instantly the reliever so many had focused their ire for the first weeks represented something's gold around here. Joe Kelly, Yankee slayer. He even got the ultimate seal of approval from a guy who knows a little bit about the subject.

As Pedro Martinez wrote on Twitter: "The only thing I would had done different than Joe Kelly tonight, is I would’ve hit Tyler Austin at his previous at bat. Other than that, Kelly executed perfectly." And then, "Sliding with the cleats up is a no-no in baseball. That means fight fight fight!"

And what was weird about the Red Sox' fans satisfaction was that the actual brawl didn't really include the likes of Jonny Gomes diving fist-first into a pile of Yankees. There was a lot of separating bodies and standing on the outskirts. But that was OK, because that's what the biggest, baddest roster on the planet -- the Yankees -- were also doing. 

For the Red Sox, it wasn't a blood-measuring contest. It was simply about doing the right thing at the right time in the right way. 

It was the latest example that this group might be on to something.

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