I don’t really know how I’m supposed to sum up this game, so I’m not even going to try. It was a wild night at the Trop, with the top prospect in baseball, Wander Franco, shining in his debut but the Red Sox still managing to pull out a bananas victory. It had a little bit of everything and, yeah, just read below.
This was a big game for the Red Sox on a couple of levels. The first one is obvious. They entered the day leading the American League East by a half-game over these Rays, and they were getting set for their first of three against Tampa. They really wanted to start things off on a strong note. But even if you want to look on top of that, it was a big day for Eduardo Rodriguez. He had been struggling so badly this year and desperately needed a strong showing. If it could come in such a big game for the team, all the better.
Instead, it was just kind of a weird day. It wouldn’t be fair to call it totally bad, especially early, but it was annoying. It wasn’t really Rodriguez’s fault in the first, however. After the Red Sox got a couple on in the first inning but didn’t score, the Rays dinked and dunked their way to a lead in the bottom of the inning, with the defense helping out some as well.
The frame started with a little ground ball to the left side that was booted by Rafael Devers, who did not have enough time to recover. That brought the phenom Wander Franco to the plate for the first time in his career, and after getting ahead 0-2 Rodriguez threw four straight balls to issue a walk. Suddenly, there were two on with nobody out. He did get a pop up after that, but then a weak grounder loaded the bases with an infield single.
Rodriguez was able to get a second pop up for a second out, getting him so close to escaping this annoying inning. Instead, it just got more annoying. Francisco Mejía hit yet another weak grounder, this one fielded by Xander Bogaerts at short. He tried to make a nearly impossible play at second, and Kiké Hernández made a mistake trying to stay on the bag to make the play. The bad throw got away and up the first base line, allowing two runs to score on the error. Rodriguez did get out of it after that to strand a pair in scoring position, but Boston was trailing 2-0.
The good news here is that Rodriguez was able to settle in some after that. He wasn’t pitching horribly in the first, though he was nibbling a little, and then he came back (more on that in a second) after a long break for a three-batter second inning with an assist from Yandy Díaz, who tried to stretch a double into a triple and was cut down at third for the final out. Rodriguez followed that with a perfect third before allowing just a single in the fourth.
Over on offense, the Rays had Ryan Yarbrough in the game coming in after an opener, and after finishing the first and working around a two-out double in the second, he got knocked around in the third. The Red Sox were all over the Rays southpaw, starting the inning with a walk and a base hit. That brought J.D. Martinez to the plate, and he ripped a double down the left-field line, bringing in both runners to tie the game up at two. After another base hit, Rafael Devers smacked a sacrifice fly out to center field, and just like that the Red Sox had themselves a lead.
They weren’t stopping there, either. Hunter Renfroe came up after Devers with a runner on first base, and he had the big swing of the inning to really put a dent on the scoreboard. Yarbrough left a changeup just a bit too high in the zone, and Renfroe smashed it. His two-run shot gave the Red Sox a 5-2 lead and all of the momentum.
The bad news for the offense is that they were about to get shut down after that. Yarbrough didn’t make it out of that third inning, but in the fourth the Rays turned to Collin McHugh, who was signed by Boston last year but ultimately opted out of the season. The righty was dominant, tossing three perfect innings to get the Rays through six.
And right before that sixth, the Red Sox got the Wander experience. Rodriguez had been rolling into the fifth inning, but he hit a snag there, starting by hitting Kevin Kiermaier in the nine-hole. Díaz followed that up with a base hit, and just like that there were two on with nobody out, and Franco stepping to the dish. Rodriguez threw a flat slider on the first pitch of the at-bat, and Franco went down and got the pitch below the zone, sending a laser out to left field for a three-run shot. It was the first career hit for the Rays phenom, and it tied the game at five.
Rodriguez did come out of the inning after that, and somewhat surprisingly came back out for the sixth as well. He got the job done there, bouncing back from the tough fifth with a perfect sixth.
The offense got some good news in the seventh with McHugh coming out of the game, with Matt Wisler replacing him on the mound. The bad news was that it didn’t change the results at all, as Boston once again went down in order to keep the game tied up at five. Josh Taylor followed that up with a scoreless bottom half in which he worked around a two-out double from Franco.
The Red Sox were finally able to get back on the bases in the eighth, when Devers benefited from the Trop. A pop up out to right field caromed off a catwalk on the roof, allowing him to get to second on a one-out double. The high wouldn’t last long, though, as Renfroe hit a grounder over to third base. Devers took off for third, was tagged out on a heads up play by Franco for the first out before Renfroe just barely was called out at first. The play was reviewed and he looked safe to me, but ultimately it was ruled too close for the umpire to overturn the out call on the field.
Adam Ottavino got the call for the bottom of the inning, and it started with Randy Arozarena flying down the line to beat out an infield single to Bogaerts at shortstop. Ottavino followed that up with a walk, and suddenly the Rays were threatening with two on and nobody out. But the Red Sox righty somehow got out of it, with a huge strikeout finishing off the inning and preserving the tie as we headed into the ninth.
The Red Sox bats would once again go down in order in the ninth, leaving it up to Matt Barnes to push this game to extras with Franco due up third for the Rays. Barnes didn’t get off to a good start, issuing a leadoff walk to Kiermaier. After that, a ground ball to second base got very strange as Kiké Hernández got the ball knocked out of his glove trying to tag Kiermaier on his way to second, but the call went to replay. It’s not entirely clear why he was called out, as it looked like the rolling ball might have actually beat him to the second base bag, but Kiermaier also may have been called out for throwing an elbow when the tag was being applied.
Either way, there was now one out with the runner on first, and Franco was stepping to the plate. Barnes got a weak ground ball back to the mound for the second out, but the winning run was now at second for Austin Meadows. The Red Sox decided to let Barnes face the lefty, and it was the right call. Barnes got the Rays slugger looking, and we were heading to extras.
With Dalbec standing at second as the free runner, Danny Santana started the frame with a bloop single to put men on the corners with nobody out, and Santana quickly moved up to second on a stolen base with the ball getting by the catcher. The next pitch also got behind the plate, and this time Dalbec broke for the plate, where he was cut down for a huge first out.
Tampa would then intentionally walk Verdugo to put runners on the corners again, but Boston still somehow did not score. With two strikes Verdugo took off and Martinez swung through strike three right down the middle while Verdugo was cut down at second ending the inning and blow up a huge chance for at least one run.
Now the Red Sox had to get a scoreless frame of their own to extend the game, and Hirokazu Sawamura got the call out of the bullpen. He got some help to start the inning when Arozarena popped a 3-0 pitch straight up. The Red Sox would then catch another break when Devers bobbled a ground ball, but Brandon Phillips on second base forgot about the intentional walk, tried to go back to second and became an easy second out. You can’t make this stuff up. Darwinzon Hernandez then got the call to try and end the inning, and he did so in two pitches to extend the game into the 11th.
There, Connor Wong made his major-league debut, running for Martinez and starting the inning at second base. Again, the Red Sox were able to get runners to the corners on a base hit from Bogaerts, who then stole second base to put two in scoring position. Finally, they came through. Devers ripped a double down the right-field line that snuck right under the glove of Díaz, and Boston went up 7-5. Renfroe then followed that up with a single of his own to make it a three-run game, and then they’d add one more on a sacrifice fly to make it a 9-5 game heading into the bottom of the inning.
Hernandez remained in the game to try and close this one out, and he did so by retiring the Rays in order. The wild 9-5 victory pushed the Red Sox record to 44-29 and put them a game and a half over the Rays in the division.
The Red Sox and Rays continue this series on Wednesday with Garrett Richards taking on Rich Hill. First pitch is set for 7:10 PM ET.