By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — You could write this story about basically anybody in the Boston bullpen. The relief staff has just been that good this October.
But, after a 4-2 win in Game 2 of the World Series, let’s go with Joe Kelly.
That’s the same Joe Kelly who posted a bloated 4.79 ERA and 1.355 WHIP this season. The same Joe Kelly who posted ERAs above 8 — above 8! — in three separate months this season (June, July, September). He’s the same Joe Kelly who — OK, yes — had his moment in the sun with his run leading the Joe Kelly Fight Club, but he’s the same Joe Kelly who crashed down to earth not long after.
He’s the same Joe Kelly who, in the words of manager Alex Cora, was considered “just a guy in the bullpen.”
But, well, maybe he’s not the same Joe Kelly. Because this Joe Kelly is something else.
The right-hander was called upon in the seventh inning of Wednesday night’s game, with the Sox grasping a 4-2 lead over Los Angeles.
Dodgers manager called upon Max Muncy to pinch-hit. Kelly struck him out on four pitches, completing the deed with some old-fashioned high heat.
Then came Yasiel Puig, who gently rolled an 0-1 fastball to the left side for out number two.
Roberts again called upon a pinch hitter, this time the switch-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal. Kelly froze him with a 2-2 changeup for strike three.
Kelly strode off the mound, his tongue protruding from his mouth, looking as if he just got away with murder.
He kind of did.
It was 11 pitches, eight strikes, and three quick outs for Kelly.
It was also the second straight night that he’s done it. All told this October, he’s pitched 7.1 innings and allowed four total base runners while striking out five batters and allowing just one earned run.
The Dodgers have now sent six batters to the plate to face Kelly. They’ve all been retired. Four have struck out.
Suddenly, the guy who was lost as recently as September is now a dominant option for Cora.
“In October, he’s been lights out. Breaking balls for strikes, good fastball, good changeup. Presence on the mound,” Cora said. “I’m happy for him. He’s been tested the whole season. At one point he went from being the guy in the seventh, eighth inning to just a guy in the bullpen. And now he’s back to the equation. When Joey is throwing strikes with all his pitches, he might be one of the toughest relievers in the big leagues because his stuff is that good.”
Again, the Red Sox are not up 2-0 in this World Series solely because of Joe Kelly. Fellow relievers like Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier have been excellent. Craig Kimbrel has seemingly solved his woes from the ALCS. Nathan Eovaldi has been a revelation in the eighth. Everything seems to be working out there.
But, well, nobody’s transformed quite as significantly or as rapidly as Joe Kelly.