Generally speaking, I haven’t really noticed the lack of fans as much as others have seemed to. Obviously there are periodic reminders of the empty seats, but for the most part I’ve noticed the baseball more than the empty seats. On Sunday, I really missed the crowd ambience for the first time, as we saw our first walk off of the season at Fenway. Nathan Eovaldi put forth a really solid start with ten strikeouts and no walks for the home team, but the offense once again struggled to get going. They did get a couple homers in the earlier parts of the game — one from Mitch Moreland and one from Rafael Devers — but the big blast came in the ninth. It was Moreland once again who sent one into the Monster Seats to break a tie in the ninth, giving Boston the game and the series with one swing of the bat. It was great, but it was also hard not to think about the lack of fans.
The Red Sox need to get hot at some point soon if they’re going to have a chance at the postseason with today marking the quarter point on their schedule. That means series wins, and after splitting the first two games at home against Toronto they needed the rubber match on Sunday to take this series. The good news is they had their best pitcher in Nathan Eovaldi on the mound, and he was missing bats like we rarely see from him. And early on, that was enough. The righty struck out two in each of the first two innings without allowing a run.
On the other side, the Red Sox were going up against Matt Shoemaker, a righty who has given them trouble in the past. Given the recent woes from the offense, an arm against whom they’ve struggled to get going in the past was not exactly what they needed. They did go down in order in the first, but Mitch Moreland was able to provide a little bit of a spark in the second. The first baseman continued his hot start to this season, getting a fastball in the bottom third of the zone over the heart of the plate. That’s Moreland’s sweet spot and he sent it out over the wall in straightaway center. Unfortunately, like so many of Boston’s homers this year, it came with the bases empty. Still, it was a 1-0 lead after two.
Eovaldi wasn’t up to the task of keeping that lead on the board all that long. He did get a couple of quick outs — including a K — to start the inning, but then Cavan Biggio came to the plate. Eovaldi fell behind 3-0, and on a 3-1 pitch he left a cutter right down the middle of the zone and Biggio launched it into the Red Sox bullpen for a solo homer of his own, and just like that we were all tied up.
In the bottom of the inning, in classic Red Sox fashion, Boston managed to frustrate even while answering back. The Blue Jays defense certainly helped matters, too. Jackie Bradley Jr. started things off with a base hit, and then Tzu-Wei Lin came up and tried to bunt him over. It was a successful sacrifice, and even better was Shoemaker muffing his original attempt to pick up the ball. Lin was originally still called out on a close play at first, but after a review the call was overturned.
So now the Red Sox had a couple men on with nobody out and a real chance to put a dent into this game. Instead, their offense just continued to struggle. It looked like Alex Verdugo hit into a devastating double play after that, but Shoemaker gave the Red Sox another gift as his throw into second base went into center field. That allowed Bradley to come around to score and give the Red Sox a 2-1 lead and still have runners on the corners with no outs. With the heart of the order coming up, the chance at a big inning was still alive. Instead, Rafael Devers hit a line drive to center field and J.D. Martinez hit into a double play, and the Red Sox settled for only one in the inning filled with Blue Jays mistakes.
It wouldn’t be long before they’d regret that. With one out to in the fourth, Eovaldi gave up a double down the left field line to Teoscar Hernandez. A couple batters later, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. ripped a base hit through the middle, and the game was all tied up yet again. That was still the score heading into the sixth, too, Bo Bichette led off that inning for the Jays and Eovaldi tried to sneak a high fastball by him. Instead, he couldn’t get it above the zone and Bichette took it the other way for another solo homer, giving Toronto the 3-2 lead.
Now, the Red Sox were coming from behind and they needed their slumping offense to get them back in the game. Perhaps no hitter better exemplified the slumping ways of this lineup than Devers, who has been desperately trying to get going. He finally put a charge into one in the bottom half of the sixth. The bases were empty, but he got a two-seam fastball that stayed right over the heart of the plate and he destroyed it. The ball ended up 449 feet away to center field for the Red Sox’s second homer of the day, and once again we were all tied up.
In the seventh, Eovaldi’s day had ended — with ten strikeouts and no walks — and Josh Osich came in out of the bullpen. He was hurt a bit by his defense as Moreland made a rare error on a ball where he simply lifted the glove too early. After Osich issued a two-out walk, his day ended and Austin Brice came on looking for the final out with two men on. The righty got the job done, inducing an inning-ending grounder from Bichette.
The Blue Jays would also turn to the ‘pen in the seventh with lefty Ryan Borucki coming in for Shoemaker. The southpaw came in and struck out the side. Brice decided he liked the way that looked and came back out and did the same in the top of the eighth. The Red Sox then struck out three straight times again in the bottom of the inning to make it nine straight strikeouts for both sides combined.
So we headed to the ninth and the game still tied, and Matt Barnes was coming in for the Red Sox. Things haven’t been going very smoothly for him so far this year, but he got the job done here. The inning started with two strikeouts to extend the streak to eleven straight in the game before things were broken up with a line out to center field toe complete a perfect inning.
Now, if the Red Sox were going to win it was going to be a walk off. They went down quickly early in the inning with two straight outs, but then Xander Bogaerts worked a big walk — the team’s first of the day — to continue the inning for Moreland. He has been the best bat this year and already had a homer in this game, but decided to do it again. This time he went the other way into the Monster Seats for a two-run shot to walk it off and give the Red Sox the series victory.
The Red Sox now welcome Tampa Bay to Fenway for a four-game set starting on Monday. Ryan Yarbrough goes for the Rays while the Red Sox have yet to announce their starter. First pitch is set for 7:30 PM ET.