Garrett Richards’ big bounce-back start leads Red Sox over Mets

Garrett Richards’ first four starts with the Red Sox were far from the greatest first impression, and an ugly start last Wednesday only created more noise and pressure on the veteran.

On Tuesday, for at least one night, he silenced his critics.

After a hard week of work with pitching coach Dave Bush that mostly focused on refining his delivery, Richards produced a gem to lead the Red Sox to a 2-1 win over the New York Mets. The right-hander was outstanding over seven innings, only giving up one real mistake. He struck out 10, and six days after allowing six walks, gave up none.

“This is the guy we envisioned,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “Stuff-wise, he’s one of the best in the league. If he can repeat his delivery, stay under control, we know he can do this every five days. He can be really good, give us a quality start and give us a chance to win.”

Richards opened the game with a quick 1-2-3 first inning on 10 pitches and carried that momentum throughout his outing. He used a healthy mix of his three pitches as he showcased his devastating curveball while blowing away hitters with 94-mph heat. His delivery was noticeably quicker and cleaner than previous starts, and it clearly helped him.

The fix that Richards and Bush made together was simple, the pitcher said.

“We just kind of came up with something that would be simple for me to be able to repeat and most importantly that gives me a chance to gather over the rubber instead of just kind of rolling through it like I was,” Richards said. “So, just making an emphasis of getting that gather over the rubber at the top. That’s really helping.”

Richards’ biggest mistake came in the second inning, when his first pitch to Jeff McNeil — a low fastball — was smoked to the second deck at Citi Field. But he didn’t let it affect him as he worked around it to strike out the side.

The right-hander was in control through a 1-2-3 third and struck out the first two batters of the fourth, including dropping a nasty curveball that froze Pete Alonso for a strikeout. He ran into a tough-luck ground ball double down the left-field line and then a single, but responded by punching out McNeil with a 93-mph fastball upstairs.

Somewhat surprisingly, Cora stayed with Richards for the seventh inning but he rewarded his manager with another 1-2-3 inning, finishing off his outing by striking out Brandon Nimmo. Richards was fired up as he walked off the mound — no doubt feeling some relief — and was deservedly congratulated by his teammates in the dugout.

“I know I haven’t been pitching great as of late, but I’ve been putting in some good work,” Richards said. “We’ve been seeing some improvements. To be able to go out, pitch, see some positive results from the work we’re putting in, it’s definitely reassuring and helps me moving forward with some confidence. Not that I wasn’t confident before, but obviously results help confidence.”

Kiké Hernandez and Rafael Devers opened the sixth with a double and single to give the Sox a 2-1 lead that was ultimately the difference. Matt Andriese and Matt Barnes pitched a shutout eighth and ninth, respectively, as Barnes picked up his fifth save.

Other takeaways from Tuesday’s win:

Dalbec delivers: Bobby Dalbec finally got the monkey off his back.

The Red Sox rookie first baseman, who homered in six of his first 10 career games last season, hadn’t gone yard in his first 58 at-bats of 2021 when he came to the plate in the third inning on Tuesday.

“He’s due,” NESN broadcaster Dennis Eckersley said. “He really is.”

Three pitches later, Dalbec finally got the monkey off his back with an opposite-field, 390-foot shot off Mets lefty David Peterson that tied the game at 1. It was a big response for the Red Sox after Richards had given up the homer to McNeil.

“Feels good,” Dalbec said. “First one’s always the hardest, so glad to get that out of the way.”

Heads up defense: The Red Sox got a nice boost defensively in the fifth, when two plays helped them get out of the inning. James McCann led off the inning with a hit to left, but the Mets catcher inexplicably tried stretching it to second, and left fielder J.D. Martinez had no problem throwing him out — even if the ball was a bit off line — as Marwin Gonzalez dove to apply the tag. Martinez had a smile on his face and made a celebration that mimicked Alex Verdugo.

Then, with two down, after Kevin Pillar singled, the Mets outfielder was caught stealing by Christian Vazquez, who sent a laser to second, where Devers applied the tag to end the inning.

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