In 2014, the Red Sox captured a Gulf Coast League title thanks to performances from hitting prospects Rafael Devers, Javier Guerra and Michael Chavis. In 2015, Boston's complex-level affiliate has relied more heavily on pitching with a league-best 2.28 team ERA during the regular season. In Monday's Game 1 of the GCL Finals, the club needed something from both aspects of the game to move within one win of its second straight championship.
Starter Logan Allen and reliever Yankory Pimentel turned in solid piching performances, but it took back-to-back RBI singles by first baseman Jerry Downs and Roldani Baldwin to give the Red Sox a 3-2, walk-off win over the Blue Jays in the first game of the best-of-3 GCL Finals on Monday.
Allen, an eighth-round pick this year and Boston's No. 26 prospect, made his first professional postseason start and allowed two earned runs on six hits in his four frames while striking out three and walking none. The 18-year-old southpaw, who left the game with his team down 2-1, posted a 0.90 ERA with 24 strikeouts and only one walk in 20 innings during the regular season and reminded his skipper of another left-hander who led the parent club to two championships at the game's highest level.
"He's a lot like Jon Lester," said GCL Red Sox manager Tom Kotchman. "You put the video together of those two, and think, 'Wow, they're eerily similar.' When we scouted him at IMG Academy, that was the first comparison. It's not quite Lester's stuff, but he's got a delivery like his, he looks like him. I mean, you see a high school kid that has a 24-to-1 strikeout-walk ratio, and that's really impressive."
But Kotchman saved his biggest praise for Pimentel, who held the Blue Jays scoreless for three innings (sixth, seventh, eighth) while allowing one hit and fanning three.
"Pimentel was the key for us, the way he put up zeros," the manager said of the right-hander, who had a 1.60 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings during the regular season. "If they score another run at any point while he's out there, it makes it all the more difficult for us to come back. ... He's got a fastball-slider-changeup mix, but he's not a hard thrower. He's usually somewhere around 92-95. He just has good pitches and has done a good job for us."
Reliever Algenis Martinez kept the zeros coming with a scoreless ninth, which set up the hitters to take the spotlight in the bottom half of the frame. Designated hitter and leadoff man Andy Perez started the rally with a one-out single off Blue Jays reliever Mike Estevez and moved into second on a Rafael Oliveras groundout to shortstop. With the Red Sox down to their final out, first baseman and No. 3 hitter Downs tied the game up, 2-2, with a single to center and advanced into scoring position on a fielding error by Blue Jays center fielder Reggie Pruitt. Baldwin, in his spot as the cleanup hitter, seized his opportunity to be a hero, plating Downs for the game-winning run for a walk-off single to left.
"If you're not excited after something like that, there's something wrong with you," Kotchman said. "Especially when it comes to these kids. A lot of them go through Spring Training, then extended spring training and then a long GCL season, which is a grind in itself with the heat down here. We started with 16 teams, and there are two left. This was just a game where, hey, we had the last at-bats and had the right people coming up in the lineup to get two key hits."
Given that the GCL Finals is a best-of-3 series, the Red Sox can claim their second straight GCL title with a win in Tuesday's Game 2 or Wednesday's Game 3, if necessary. But with the amount of roster turnover at the lowest stateside level in the Minors, Kotchman is staying away from a certain word.
"This has nothing to do with repeating," he said. "Down here, this is just about playing the game right, respecting the game and acting like a professional on and off the field. We want these guys to keep their emotions under control, and that was what was so big about Pimentel. We were down, 2-1, and we needed him to keep it there, so he did in a big spot."