CINCINNATI -- Staggered by Scooter Gennett's grand slam in the first inning, the Boston Red Sox regrouped and finally put some distance between themselves and the Yankees.
Rafael Devers hit a three-run homer Friday night, and the Red Sox extended their A.L. East lead to four games with a 5-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. Boston added to its lead with the help of the Yankees' 8-1 loss at Toronto.
The Red Sox have won 12 of 15, keeping the Yankees at bay while moving a season-high 25 games over .500 at 89-64. The Red Sox already have clinched a playoff berth and home-field advantage for the wild-card game, if it would come to that. Boston has never played a wild-card game, and doesn't want to settle for one now.
"The ball's in our court," David Price (6-3) said. "We win, we're fine. We don't care what the Yankees do. We just go play our game."
Their A.L. Cy Young Award winner is still struggling heading into playoff time, though.
Rick Porcello gave up Gennett's fourth grand slam -- a Reds' season record -- in the first inning. He lasted a season-low four innings, turning a 5-4 lead over to the bullpen. Porcello has lost 17 games - most in the majors - after winning 22 last year along with the Cy Young.
With the left-handed Price fresh, manager John Farrell decided Porcello was finished after 57 pitches.
"I just felt with the left-hander in David going against the heat of the order was the move to make," Farrell said. "I know Rick did not want to come out of that game, and I fully respect that."
Part of Porcello's problem has been a lack of run support. Boston has been blanked while he's on the mound in 10 of his losses. This time, the Red Sox got him off the hook, overcoming Gennett's career-high 27th homer with the help of Devers' three-run shot off Sal Romano (5-7).
The Red Sox are last in the AL with 159 homers.
Price pitched 2 2/3 innings and contributed a single, bringing the Red Sox to the front of the dugout for a celebration. Craig Kimbrel pitched the ninth for his 34th save in 38 chances. He hasn't allowed a run in his last 10 appearances.
Gennett was claimed off waivers from Milwaukee late in spring training. He has provided some of the Reds' best moments in an 88-loss season, including a four-homer game on June 6. His homer off Porcello ended the Red Sox' streak of 26 straight scoreless innings. He and Lou Gehrig are the only players with a four-homer game and four grand slams in any season.
"That sounds crazy," Gennett said of his connection with Gehrig.
The Red Sox are 10-1 against the Reds all-time in their interleague series. The Reds beat the Red Sox in seven games for the 1975 World Series championship. Overall, Boston is 14-4 in interleague play this season. The Reds are 5-13.
Farrell had lunch with his son Luke, a Reds reliever. Luke wears the same No. 52 as his father. The last time a manager faced his son as an opposing player was 2004, when the Giants' Felipe Alou went against his son Moises of the Cubs. Luke Farrell didn't get into the game Friday.
"It's definitely unique," John Farrell said. "Hopefully it's just a side story to a successful series for us."
Boston left fielder Andrew Benintendi had several hundred relatives and friends cheering him from the upper deck in left. Benintendi attended Madeira High School in suburban Cincinnati and regularly attended games at Great American Ball Park. His favorite player was Ken Griffey Jr.
"I just remember watching the guys play and picturing myself out there," Benintendi said . "It's crazy that I'm here now."
Reds C Tucker Barnhart agreed to a $16 million, four-year contract that covers his salary arbitration years and the first season after he would have been eligible for free agency. He receives a $1.75 million signing bonus and salaries of $4 million next year, $2.5 million in 2019, $3.5 million in 2020 and $3.75 million in 2021. As part of the deal announced Friday, Cincinnati has a $7.5 million option for 2022 with a $500,000 buyout.
Red Sox: INF Eduardo Nunez is increasing his daily workouts as he recovers from a sprained knee, but isn't close to a full return. "We have to see some marked improvement," Farrell said. "First thing would be a potential pinch-hit situation. We're not going to risk anything until we get him on the base paths and get a better feel for what he's capable of doing."
Reds: CF Billy Hamilton was back in the lineup for the first time since he broke his left thumb on Sept. 6 while bunting. He had two singles and was caught stealing when he over-slid second base.
Red Sox: LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (5-6) is 1-1 with a 2.55 ERA in his last three starts. He's 2-2 in eight career interleague starts.
Reds: Rookie Robert Stephenson (5-5) is 5-1 with a 2.84 ERA in his last six starts.
BOSTON — Drew Pomeranz may not actually be the No. 2 starter for the Red Sox in this year’s presumed American League Division Series. Maybe the Sox will mix in a right-hander between Pomeranz and Chris Sale.
Still, everyone knows which pitcher, in spirit, has been the second-most reliable for the Red Sox. A day after Chris Sale notched his 300th strikeout and on the final off-day of the regular season, it’s worth considering the importance of the other excellent lefty on the Sox, and how much he’s meant to a team that’s needed surprise performances because of the lineup’s drop-off.
Per FanGraphs’ wins above replacement, Pomeranz is the second-most valuable lefthanded starter among those qualified in the American League (you know who's No. 1). He's one of the 10 best starters in the AL overall.
MORE RED SOX:
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- Sale becomes first A.L. pitcher this century to record 300 strikeouts
- Drellich: How should Sox handle Sale's pursuit of Pedro's strikeout record?
Pomeranz, 28, was a first-round pick seven years ago. But he didn’t exactly blossom until the last two years. He has a 3.15 ERA in 165 2/3 innings. His next start, if decent, should give him a career-high in innings after he threw 170 2/3 last year.
Pomeranz is a 16-game winner, just one win behind Sale. The value of wins and losses is known to be nil, but there’s still a picture of reliability that can be gleaned.
Is this the year Pomeranz became the pitcher he always envisioned he would be?
“I don’t know, I mean, I had a pretty dang good year last year,” Pomeranz said, referring to a 3.32 ERA between the Padres and Sox, and an All-Star selection. “I think these last two years have been kind of you know, more what I wanted to be like. But I still, I don’t think I’m done yet, you know what I mean?”
Most pro athletes say there’s always room to improve. Pomeranz, however, was able to specify what he wants. The focus is on his third and fourth pitches: his cutter and his change-up.
“My changeup’s been really good this year,” Pomeranz said. “That’s something that still can go a lot further. And same with my cutter too. I still use it sparingly. I don’t think me just being a six-inning guy is the end of it for me either.
“You set personal goals. You want to throw more innings, cover more innings so the bullpen doesn’t have to cover those. Helps save them for right now during the year.”
Early in the year, Pomeranz wasn’t using his cutter much. He threw just nine in April, per BrooksBaseball.net. That led to talk that he wasn’t throwing the pitch to take it easy on his arm. He did start the year on the disabled list, after all, and cutters and sliders can be more stressful on the elbow and forearm.
That wasn’t the case.
“The reason I didn’t throw it in the beginning of the year was because half the times I threw it went the other way,” Pomeranz said. “It backed up. Instead of cutting, it was like sinking or running back. I mean, I pitched [in Baltimore] and gave up a home run to [Manny] Machado, we were trying to throw one in and it went back. So I didn’t trust it.
“Mechanical thing. I was still trying to clean my mechanics up, and once I cleaned ‘em up and got my arm slot right, then everything started moving the way it was supposed to and then I started throwing it more.”
Pomeranz’s cutter usage, and how he developed the pitch heading into 2016, has been well documented.
The change-up is more of an X-factor. He threw five in each of his last two starts, per Brooks, and it’s a pitch he wants to use more.
“It’s been good,” Pomeranz said. “I think I could throw it a lot more and a lot more effectively, and ... tweaking of pitch selection probably could help me get into some of those later innings too.”
Well, then why not just throw the change more often? Easier said than done when you’re talking about your fourth pitch in a key moment.
“I throw a few a game,” Pomeranz said. “Sometimes you feel like you don’t want too throw it in situations where you get beat with your third or fourth best pitch. I mean it’s felt — every time I’ve thrown it it’s been consistent. It’s just a matter of, it’s something me and Vazqy [Christian Vazquez] talk about, too."
(When you hear these kind of issues, which most pitchers deal with, it makes you appreciate Sale’s ability to throw any pitch at any time even more.)
Speaking on Wednesday, the day after Pomeranz’s most recent outing, Sox pitching coach Carl Willis said he thinks the change-up’s already starting to have a greater presence.
“He’s kind of always had a changeup, and he hadn’t had any trust or conviction in that pitch,” Willis said. “I was really excited last night that he used the changeup more. He threw it. He doubled up with it on occasion. Something that’s not in the scouting report.
"It’s his fourth pitch and he seldom threw it in a game and he’s in a situation where, OK, the change-up’s the right pitch, but location of whatever I throw is going to outweigh [selection]. Now he’s starting to gain that confidence [that he can locate it].
“I think that’s going to make him an extremely better pitcher. I thought it was a huge factor in his outing last night. Because he didn’t have his best velocity. He really did a good job of changing speeds with the changeup, and obviously with the curveball and being able to give different shapes of the pitches.”
The Sox already have the best left-hander in the AL, if not anywhere. The AL's second-best southpaw happens to pitch on the same team, and has tangible plans to be even better.