The Red Sox won a close one last night in a game that was about as must-win as any on the schedule. Not because of playoff implications in June. Not because it would be good to beat a divisional rival. Not even because it was a Red Sox-Yankees game (which transcends even that of typical division rival games). Because it was Dustin Pedroia Day.
Today, there was no such requirement, per se, but it was still high on my personal wish list, and presumably on the wish list of the collective hive mind of Red Sox Nation. After all, what’s better than beating the Yankees over and over? My guess? Nothing.
Nathan Eovaldi took to the rubber in this one. Primary directive: beat the Yankees. Secondary (but no less important) directive: go deep in this game after last night’s performance drained the bullpen. Following Garrett Richards short outing earlier in the week, Nick Pivetta came out dealing. After Martín Pérez’s short outing yesterday, Eovaldi needed to be on.
The same could not be said, fortunately for our purposes, of Jordan Montgomery, the Yankees starting pitcher. Xander Bogaerts led off the second inning with a single, and then Rafael Devers drew a walk to set up first and second with no outs. Hunter Renfroe smoked a ball to the pitcher, which deflected towards third base. The result was a bases-loaded situation for Enrique Hernández, who hit a ball to deep center field. It was deep enough to score Bogaerts from third for the first run of the game. The next play had to be seen to be believed, as Bobby Dalbec popped a ball down the first base line in foul territory. Luke Voit chased after it and caught it over his shoulder. On the play, Devers tagged up from third and somehow managed to sneak in for the second Red Sox run of the game.
Connor Wong, one of the three pieces acquired in the Mookie Betts trade, made his major-league debut on Friday as a pinch runner. Today, he had his first major-league at-bat, and that ended in his first major-league hit. It didn’t bring in the third run, but it was still really cool to see.
The Red Sox continued their onslaught in the third inning. After two quick outs that seemed to indicate Montgomery was getting the game back under control, Bogaerts launched a double into the deepest part of the park. Then Devers hustled out an infield single that was called an out initially, but a successful challenge overturned that poor call, allowing the inning to get to Renfroe.
The Red Sox outfielder took advantage of the opportunity with a second consecutive infield single, putting the third run on the board for Boston. At this point, the Yankees were reeling and playing a lot like the Red Sox we had been watching in recent days. It almost got too fun out there, though. Bobby Dalbec stood in with the bases loaded, and gave a 1-2 offering a ride, but it died on the warning track in deep center field. The score was set at 3-0, but Eovaldi was still cruising.
His cruising came to a halt in the 6th inning, however, as two Yankees singled to set up first and second with one out in the inning, and the heart of the order (Gary Sánchez, Giancarlo Stanton, and Luke Voit) looming. This felt like the first stressful situation that Eovaldi faced all night. Naturally, Sánchez, the hottest hitter in the Yankees lineup, grounded into an easy double play to end the inning and the threat. Through six innings, the score was still 3-0, and Eovaldi achieved both of his directives for the day. But he wasn’t done.
Michael Chavis led off the seventh inning with a single, proving that he is not the worst leadoff hitter the Red Sox have trotted out there this season (that honor belongs to Danny Santana). Soon after, J.D. Martinez launched a ball down the right-field line that Aaron Judge could not catch on a dive, allowing Martinez to end up at second with a double. The run did not score, since Chavis had to hang back to prevent a double play on a caught liner. Bogaerts hit a sacrifice fly into center field (although Brett Gardner had to dive to even get the one out) that did score Chavis, however, putting the Sox up 4-0.
Eovaldi played like a champion today, and he didn’t give up his first run until the eighth inning. Alex Cora left him out there even as his pitch count crept over 100, and a DJ LeMahieu solo shot was the lone run he gave up. In all, he finished the night with 7 2⁄3 innings, seven hits allowed, no walks, six strikeouts, and just the one run. In other words: Exactly what the Red Sox needed.
Hirokazu Sawamura came out to relieve Eovaldi, but was not nearly as sharp as Eovaldi, as he walked the first batter he faced. Worse yet, it took him ten pitches to get that result. Then he walked the second batter... and the third batter... and just like that, the Red Sox went from 7 2⁄3 of beautiful pitching from Eovaldi, to having the bases loaded on three consecutive walks, and having the go-ahead run stepping up to the plate.
The Sox called on Adam Ottavino to clean up Sawamura’s mess. Five anxiety-inducing pitches later, the inning was finally over, and Sawamura’s ERA remained untouched, just like the scoreboard.
The score entering the ninth inning was still 4-1 in favor of the good guys. All the Sox needed to do was get three outs before the Yankees got three runs, and they would win yet another game and series against their hated foes. Ottavino came back out to attempt to close this one out, an opportunity for the rare four-out save.
Nothing ever comes easy, though. After one quick out, Gleyber Torres smacked a single through the right side of the infield. A fielder’s choice took him out on the next play, but then Rougned Odor stole second to make it moot. Ottavino walked the next batter, and once again, the Yankees were threatening with two outs in the inning. With the tying run at the plate in LeMahieu, it was an extremely high leverage situation. Of course, he hit a single to score a run, because he is on fire. Then stepped in Aaron Judge, the go-ahead run. Judge struck out after the longest at-bat in the history of baseball (Note: Do not fact-check this.)
That was terrifying.
The Red Sox win moves them to 46-31, and pushes the Yankees just a bit further away for some breathing room in the AL East. The series ends tomorrow at 1:10 PM ET with the Sox going for a sweep.