It took the Red Sox nine tries, but Wednesday night they finally managed to return to .500 on the season by riding a late-inning rally to a 4-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds.
For the Sox, the script looked all too similar to the first eight attempts in the early innings. The lineup produced an early threat against Mike Leake, getting singles from Shane Victorino and David Ortiz, leaving them in need of just a fly ball from Mike Napoli to get out to an early lead. Instead, Napoli put the ball into the ground to short, producing an inning-ending pair of outs rather than a run.
Napoli would make up for his offensive gaffe in the second inning by picking a sharp ground ball from Roger Bernadina, stepping on first, and then firing to second where Herrera tagged Ryan Ludwick to complete the double play. There would be no defensive bailout for Jake Peavy in the third, however. After a leadoff double from Chris Heisey, Peavy grooved a fastball to Skip Schumaker, allowing the leadoff man to put the Reds on top 2-0 with a home run into the Cincinnati bullpen.
What the defense could do was keep the Red Sox close. The next inning would see a couple of nice plays from Will Middlebrooks coming in on weak ground balls. The first time, Heisey managed to beat out Dustin Pedroia's relay throw to first, staying out of the double play. The second time, Pedroia practically sprinted across the bag before spinning and throwing across his body with all his momentum headed in the other direction. The throw was in time, completing one of the more spectacular double play turns in recent memory.
With those plays helping Peavy keep any more runs off the board, the Red Sox offense finally got behind him in the sixth. Singles from Jonathan Herrera and Shane Victorino put runners on the corners for David Ortiz, who wasted little time shooting a single down the line into right field. Mike Napoli put an exclamation mark on his earlier bit of redemption by one-upping Ortiz with a double to right, and just like that the game was tied. The Red Sox may have even managed another run, but A.J. Pierzynski was somehow unable to beat a throw to second on a slow dribbler to first bobbled by Joey Votto. This coming one inning after the catcher had actually fallen down between first and second, bailing out Brandon Phillips when the Reds infielder dropped what might otherwise have been a double play ball.
As with Napoli, Pierzynski would have his chance for redemption. But first came one very rough top of the seventh. Peavy fell apart to start the inning, surrendering two hits and a walk to load the bases with zero outs. The Red Sox would get the type of contact they needed from Chris Capuano, but Bernadina's ground ball just wasn't hit hard enough for Dustin Pedroia to go home with the ball. Instead, Napoli had to make a leaping grab to save what would have been a disastrous errant throw, keeping the Red Sox alive even as they fell behind 3-2. Another pair of ground balls, this time from Burke Badenhop, would get Boston out of the inning without any more runs coming home, thanks in large part to Will Middlebrooks cutting down Brayan Pena at home by a mile with the infield in.
With just nine outs left to them, the Red Sox wasted a leadoff walk from Middlebrooks in the bottom of the seventh. In the eighth, however, a one-out walk from Mike Napoli sparked the turnaround rally. J.J. Hoover entered the game to face Grady Sizemore, leading John Farrell to call on Jonny Gomes, who drew a walk of his own. Up came A.J. Pierzynski, having reached base twice and produced two outs on the basepaths. His decision to avoid baserunning as much as possible, then, makes a lot of sense. The catcher got jammed, but managed to keep his flare to right fair. With the ball bouncing up into the stands, Pierzynski took second, and the Red Sox got their tying run.
Still, if there was one player who deserved a big hit on the night, it was Will Middlebrooks. The Red Sox had wasted his trip on base the inning before, and he'd been playing big-time defense all night. When the Reds decided to intentionally walk Jackie Bradley, he got his chance, and made good. A long stretch of bad luck with ground balls finally came to an end as he shot a single past Zack Cozart and into center field, bringing the go-ahead run home from third.
All that left was three outs and Koji Uehara. And if Koji's splitter wasn't quite dying at the plate, it didn't make the Reds any more capable of hitting him. Three straight strikeouts later, and the Red Sox were finally, finally back to .500.