The Red Sox offense has been stagnant. Very, very stagnant. Despite that, they managed to squeak out a win on Friday thanks to a timely three-run blast from Hunter Renfore, and a follow-up solo home run by Bobby Dalbec. More of the same kind of silence from the bats occurred from the Red Sox offensively in game two of the series until the ninth inning.
The Red Sox legitimately could not have asked for a better start than what Tanner Houck gave on Saturday. He was perfect, and that’s not an exaggeration. Houck pitched five perfect innings of baseball, retiring all 15 batters he faced while striking out eight of them. The most impressive aspect of his start was that he mixed in his splitter extremely well, even getting swings and misses. The biggest gripe anyone has ever had with Houck has been his inability to mix in a third pitch. With a third pitch, the ceiling gets so much higher.
Meanwhile, the only bit of Red Sox offense through the first eight innings belonged to a solo blast from Rafael Devers. They did have multiple opportunities throughout the game that were squandered, of course. Kyle Schwarber doubled in the first inning off starter Josiah Gray and was given third on a wild pitch before Xander Bogaerts walked, but any chances of scoring were immediately extinguished by a hard-hit double play by Devers.
Gray, a big piece in the deal that sent Trea Turner and Max Scherzer to the Dodgers, proved why he is a highly-touted prospect. The righty finished with six innings, three hits, one earned run, two walks, and seven strikeouts. The only blemish on his day was the solo home run to Devers. With both starters doing a great job for their teams, the game was officially in the hands of the bullpens.
Ryan Braiser pitched a very big seventh inning, coming in to relieve Garrett Richards who tossed a scoreless sixth inning. The seventh inning was not the prettiest for Brasier, but he did get the job done. He had been used in the previous four games, so it was questionable to see him in Saturday’s game. Brasier got Alcides Escobar to fly out to right and followed it up with a massive strikeout of Juan Soto. Josh Bell singled on a rather unimpressive hit to Xander Bogaerts, Keibert Ruíz walked, and Andrew Stevenson singled to load up the bases. It was a big spot, but Jordy Mercer went down swinging — on a pitch that was a strike, but Mercer disagreed and was tossed — and Brasier, extremely excited, pounded on his chest three or four times to end the inning.
The Nationals scored their first run in the bottom of the eighth, which was a truly disappointing inning for Adam Ottavino and the Red Sox defense. Ottavino came into the eight and immediately struck out Carter Kieboom, and then let up a questionable (to put it mildly) double to Ryan Zimmerman that could have easily been an error on center fielder Hunter Renfore. It was a routine fly ball, but Renfroe lost it in the lights to let it fall in. Ottavino then walked Lane Thomas and Alcides Escobar to load the bases before being yanked for Austin Davis. The lefty/lefty matchup of Davis and arguably the best player in baseball Juan Soto, what could possibly go wrong? Thankfully Davis was able to limit Soto to a sacrifice fly, and after Josh Bell lined out to Xander Bogaerts to end the inning, the game was tied at one.
The Red Sox then had their big breakout in the top of the ninth inning. J.D. Martinez began the inning with a 10-pitch walk, and José Iglesias came into the game to run. Alex Verdugo and Hunter Renfroe struck out swinging, leaving it up to Christian Vázquez, who undoubtedly has had a down offensive season. But this time he came up massive with a triple over the head of Soto in left to score Iglesias. Travis Shaw kept it going by singling in Vázquez to make it 3-1. The Nationals brought in in Mason Thompson to face Kiké Hernández, who promptly greeted him with a home run. The Red Sox take the 5-1 lead.
The Red Sox could of course not make this an easy win. Davis, after replacing Adam Ottavino in the eighth inning, stayed in to pitch the ninth. He walked Keibert Ruíz and then Andrew Stevenson smashed his fifth home run of the season to deep left center to make it 5-3 Red Sox. Alex Cora again went to the bullpen to bring in Hansel Robles, another overworked bullpen piece. Robles got pinch hitter Yadiel Hernández to fly out and then got Carter Kieboom on strikes. Ryan Zimmerman kept the inning alive with a walk, but thankfully Robles was able to get Lane Thomas to fly out to Renfroe to end the game. The Red Sox win 5-3.
The win pushed the Red Sox record to 91-70. The Yankees, meanwhile, were absolutely walloped Saturday by the Rays, 12-2. With the win, the Red Sox and the Yankees have the exact same record of 91-70. With a win tomorrow, the Red Sox will automatically claim the first wildcard position, regardless of a Yankees win thanks to Boston taking the season series 10-9. The Blue Jays, for their part, stayed alive with a win over Baltimore, while Seattle plays later tonight needing a win to stay alive.