Boston Red Sox

Michael Wacha just had one of the best starts of his life, and the Red Sox needed every last pitch.

With the Sox clinging to a 1-0 lead for nearly the full 2:32 runtime (nice & quick!) of Monday’s win over the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, Wacha went and tossed just the second complete game and shutout of his career. He allowed just three hits, two of which were in the first inning, and one walk. At one point, he retired 16 batters in a row.

When Matt Duffy broke the streak with a double in the bottom of the sixth inning, that’s when Wacha delivered the highlight of his outing, a strikeout of Shohei Ohtani with a 97-mph fastball, to end the inning and keep the game at 1-0 Red Sox. Wacha also got the 2021 MVP to ground out to end the ballgame.

Wacha doesn’t qualify for the ERA lead, because he has fewer innings (49.2) than team games (55). He’s had some short outings. But if he did, after the shutout, his 1.99 ERA would rank fourth in the American League and sixth in the majors.

As was highlighted after Nick Pivetta hurled a complete game in a recent win over the Astros, Wacha’s accomplishment in Anaheim has become the rarest of the rare in Major League Baseball. Wacha became just the 10th pitcher across MLB to pitch one complete game so far in the 2022 season. The Red Sox are the only team with multiple pitchers to go the distance, and they have three of them (Nathan Eovaldi gutted out a complete game win over the Orioles on May 28).

Alex Cora and the Red Sox’ pitching staff have been something of a throwback with these extended pitching performances. In recent years, there’s been a rise in an analytics-driven aversion to pitchers facing the batting order for a third time. Teams have even used “openers,” including the Red Sox from time to time, stringing innings together based on matchups.

But at the same time, we are ultimately talking about human beings and not numbers on a sheet of paper. Cora deserves some credit for recognizing that Wacha, and Pivetta and Eovaldi before him, were in command, and the third-time-through-the-order stats had become less of a factor. There’s nothing wrong with choosing to conserve your bullpen in a moment when your starter had things under control into the late innings.

t’s also worth noting, though, that the Red Sox are only 14th in bullpen ERA so far this season, so Cora may be factoring in that his starters (3.48 starters’ ERA, seventh in baseball) are simply playing better and are more reliable right now. It helped that Wacha kept his pitch count low; he needed only 105 pitches to get through 29 batters.

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Perhaps most importantly, Wacha had the backs of a Red Sox offense that was also struggling to scratch runs across against the Angels’ staff. Noah Syndergaard mostly cruised through six innings, then the bullpen added three shutout innings. But, thanks to Wacha, the one run was all they needed.

Overall, the Red Sox are emerging as perhaps the streakiest team in baseball. They started the season 10-19, then won 10 out of 13, then lost five of eight, and now have won five in a row. At 28-27, they’re back over .500 for the first time since April 19. They’re just 3.5 games behind the Rays for the second AL Wild Card spot, and 4.5 behind the Blue Jays for the top Wild Card.

In light of that, the Red Sox’ games against the AL East are obviously going to be even more crucial than usual for the rest of the season. And it’ll be hard to imagine them making the playoffs if they can’t play their best baseball more consistently while hovering around .500. But if they can continue to get strong starting pitching, they should be right in the thick of the playoff race in September.

The Red Sox and Angels, who have now lost 12 in a row, get back to it Tuesday night in Anaheim, with an estimated start time of 9:38 p.m. ET. Garrett Whitlock (2-1, 3.05 ERA) starts for Boston, with Los Angeles’ starter yet to be announced as of this writing.

PHOTOS: Michael Wacha tosses complete game shutout in Red Sox' win over Angels