Back in September, the Red Sox held a 3-2 lead in the eighth inning over the Toronto Blue Jays. Alex Cora turned to Joe Kelly in hope for a clean inning in order to set-up closer Craig Kimbrel for a save situation in the ninth. But what Kelly did next was nothing but clean. Kelly was pulled after throwing just 15 pitches (five strikes), after walking Justin Smoak, giving up a single to Kendrys Morales and hitting Randal Grichuk with a pitch to load the bases. Kelly then hit Kevin Pillar to force in a run to tie the game at three, and then was pulled for Brandon Workman. After the game, Cora didn't seem concerned, but knew Kelly could be much better, and the Red Sox needed him to be.
“I mean, (Kelly) didn’t execute tonight. He’s been good lately, but today he wasn’t,” Cora said after the September game. “You know, he needs to get better, he needs to get better and he knows it. Today wasn’t a great night for him, but we trust the guy. It’s two outs in the eighth, we expect him to go out there and get the out. But he didn’t do it today, but if we have a situation tomorrow where we can bring him in, kind of like the same scenario, we’ll bring him in.”
Since that outing, Kelly has been better. The hard throwing right hander has become one of Boston's best options out of the bullpen, especially in the postseason.
When David Price was pulled early in Game 2 of the ALDS against the Yankees, Kelly answered the call, pitching 2.1 innings allowing just one hit with one strikeout. In Game 1 in the ALCS, Kelly saw 1.2 innings of work, again allowing just one hit and one strikeout. Kelly was later chalked up with the loss, after a brutal error by Eduardo Nunez eventually lead to Alex Bregman scoring the eventual game-winning run.
This postseason success isn't anything new to Kelly during his Red Sox tenure. Dating back to the 2016 ALDS against Cleveland, Kelly appeared in all three games (3.2 innings) without allowing an earned run. In last years ALDS matchup against Houston, Kelly kept the Astros off the scoreboard, not allowing a run in 2.2 innings of work.
Kelly has always had the potential to be a quality reliever, especially with his go-to fastball that can hit 100 mph, but has always struggled with consistency. He's shown the flashes of dominance while in Boston, especially in the playoffs, and hopes he can continue to be a vital part of the Red Sox bullpen for this playoff run.