SEATTLE (AP) — Mitch Moreland began warming up with swings in the Boston clubhouse around the fifth inning. Manager Alex Cora nearly used Moreland as a pinch hitter in the seventh inning but thought it would be better to wait.
“When you get to that situation or think you might be in it, you try to prepare the best you can and be ready for it when it comes,” Moreland said.
Moreland connected for a three-run homer in the ninth inning and the World Series champion Red Sox rallied for their first win of the season, beating the Seattle Mariners 7-6 on Friday night.
🗣CALL IT A COMEBACK pic.twitter.com/OoCSyhr69C
— Boston Red Sox (@RedSox) March 30, 2019
A day after losing its opener 12-4, Boston bounced back by rallying from a 6-1 deficit, capping the comeback with Moreland’s shot. It was the fourth pinch hit homer of Moreland’s career, and he’s the 12th player in Red Sox history with a pinch hit go-ahead home run in the ninth inning or later.
“We wanted Mitch to hit with men on and he put a good swing on (it),” Cora said.
It was 6-4 when Rafael Devers opened the ninth with a double off closer Hunter Strickland (0-1), moved to third on a passed ball, and pinch hitter Blake Swihart was hit by a pitch.
Strickland got a huge out when Devers was nailed at the plate on Jackie Bradley Jr.’s groundball, but Moreland didn’t miss a 2-0 fastball in the middle of the plate and lined into over the right field wall. Strickland was checked by a trainer earlier in the ninth but remained in the game.
Strickland said he had tightness in the back of his shoulder and was going to be looked at by team doctors.
“I was all over the place, everybody saw it. It wasn’t good at all,” Strickland said. “I just wasn’t comfortable, but that’s no excuse.”
Matt Barnes pitched the bottom of the ninth to close out the victory for his first save since 2017. The Red Sox have a different look in the bullpen this year after closer Craig Kimbrel became a free agent — he hasn’t yet signed with a new team.
Cora remained coy about whether Barnes is the full-time closer.
“We were watching the game and the game dictated for Barnes to be in the ninth,” he said.
Boston’s comeback ruined another fine effort by rookie Yusei Kikuchi, who pitched six solid innings and left in line for the victory. After pitching well last week in Japan, Kikuchi showed his new hometown fans the mix that made him a prized signing by Seattle in the offseason.
Kikuchi allowed two earned runs and four hits, including homers by Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez, and struck out five.
It was all for naught as Seattle’s biggest concern entering the season — its bullpen — failed to come through. The Mariners traded Edwin Diaz, who led the majors with 57 saves last year, to the New York Mets in a big deal during the winter.
Christian Vazquez’s home run in the eighth pulled Boston within 6-4 and the Red Sox missed a chance at more runs in the inning when Eduardo Nunez bounced into a 1-2-3 double play against Cody Gearrin to end the threat. Nunez stopped running to avoid being tagged by Gearrin, but the pause allowed Seattle to complete the inning-ending double play.
“There is nothing you can do there. You can run into it but it’s such a weird play I think everybody in this room would have stopped, too,” Cora said
Seattle continued its slugging start to the season with three home runs off Boston starter Nathan Eovaldi, who lasted five innings and allowed six runs.
Mallex Smith hit his first career leadoff home run, Domingo Santana’s torrid start continued with his third homer and Omar Narvaez’s first hit of the season was a solo shot just fair down the right field line for Seattle. The Mariners have 12 home runs in four games, including eight in the first two against Boston.
The Mariners added depth at catcher by acquiring Tom Murphy from San Francisco for minor league pitcher Jesus Ozoria. Seattle optioned David Freitas, who started on opening day, to Triple-A Tacoma to clear the roster spot.
Red Sox: LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (13-5, 3.82 in 2018) gets the start after setting a career-high in wins and a career-low ERA last season.
Mariners: RHP Mike Leake (10-10, 4.36 in 2018) makes his first outing since pitching one of Seattle’s two exhibition games when the team was in Japan. It will be Leake’s seventh career start vs. Boston.