Given how close this race is and has been for some time now, it feels like every game is the biggest of the season. And in a way, that is always true. But this Mariners game felt like a true must-win, as a loss would guarantee another series loss and drop them out of a postseason spot for real. And it didn’t look great at all times in this game. Another terrible error proved costly and put the team behind, and the offense struggled all night. But Alex Cora trusted his gut with a couple of pinch hitting decisions in the eighth, culminating with a bases-clearing double from Kyle Schwarber to break a tie, and ultimately win the game.
With the Red Sox facing what sure seemed like a must-win game, needing a victory to keep open the possibility of winning this series against a fellow wildcard contender, the big piece of good news was Nathan Eovaldi taking the mound. The righty has been their best pitcher all year, to the point where conversation is starting to percolate among Red Sox fans about whether or not he would start the Wildcard Game if they made it.
But of course, that is getting ahead of ourselves, because they still need to actually make it to that point. Which, in turn, brings us back to this game which would play a big role in whether or not they’d get there. And Eovaldi looked every part the de facto staff ace in the early going on Wednesday. The righty cruised through the first three innings of work, giving up just one single while walking out six batters in that stretch.
The bad news is the Red Sox offense remained ice cold, and Tyler Anderson similarly shut them down through the first three innings. Boston did make things at least a little interesting in the third when they drew a pair of two-out walks, but Xander Bogaerts couldn’t come through with men on base, and the game was scoreless through three.
Anderson then came back out for the fourth and started the inning off with a strikeout before J.D. Martinez came to the plate. The slugger has been scuffling a bit of late, but he had a couple of good swings in this at bat. On the first, he just barely hooked the ball foul for a long strike. But then a couple of pitches later, in a 3-2 count, he took a fastball right down the heart of the plate and sent it to left-center field for a solo shot. The homer gave the Red Sox a 1-0 lead.
But then the bottom of the inning started to look all too familiar. It wasn’t hard contact that put some traffic on the bases in this inning, with a fairly weakly hit single to start it off before a slow roller against the shift made it first and second with nobody out. Ty France came up next and hit a bloop into center field, and with that the Mariners had quickly tied the game back up on three balls whose exit velocity did not top 82 mph.
And then the familiarity came in the form of costly, lazy, and frankly embarrassing defense. With two on, Abraham Toro smacked a fly ball to deep right field. It was a routine play for Hunter Renfroe that was likely to move the runner from second to third, except Renfroe started thinking about his throw just a split second too early, and he dropped the easy fly ball. Instead of an out and runners on the corners, the error loaded the bases, still with nobody out. To his credit, Eovaldi did a good job getting out of the jam without too much damage, retiring the next three batters he faced. One of them, however, was a sacrifice fly to give Seattle a 2-1 lead.
Boston was fortunate the deficit was not more, and they had to come out looking for an answer in the fifth. It seemed like they’d have it when their first two batters reached on base hits to put a pair on with nobody out and the top of the order coming up. It was a prime opportunity, but Kiké Hernández lined out to right field, and Alex Verdugo made a baserunning mistake by not tagging to third. Not that it would matter too much, because Renfroe struck out before Bogaerts ripped a ground ball that was turned into out number three, leaving the runners on and keeping Seattle ahead by a run.
After Eovaldi was able to work around a leadoff double for a scoreless inning in the bottom of the fifth, the Red Sox got a little more power in the sixth. It came with two outs, and in fact Bobby Dalbec quickly fell behind 0-2. But he worked his way back to a full count, and eventually went down and got a curveball down in the zone. It didn’t even look like a particularly impactful swing, but his power carried the ball out and over the wall in right field for a solo shot, tying the game up at two.
Heading into the bottom of that inning, Eovaldi’s night was done with Alex Cora turning to Darwinzon Hernandez in the sixth. The southpaw came through with an easy 1-2-3 inning. Hernandez came out for another inning as well, but after two quick outs he issued a walk that ended his night. It was Adam Ottavino getting the call to try and finish that frame out, which he did against the first batter he faced.
So now we were heading into the eighth with the game still tied, and Bogaerts was leading things off for Boston. He hit the ball well to start, putting a fly ball into center field that would hit the wall for a triple. A Rafael Devers walk then put men on the corners with nobody out, but Martinez couldn’t get the run home as he grounded out. The good news is that still left now two in scoring position with one out and Travis Shaw coming to the plate somewhat surprisingly as a pinch hitter for Dalbec.
The move worked out with Shaw working his way back from down 0-2 to a walk, loading the bases with one out. Cora then went to another pinch hitter, this time turning to Kyle Schwarber coming in for Kevin Plawecki. Schwarber came through, working a full count before ripping a double into right-center field to clear the bases, even moving up to third on the throw home. Boston would continue adding on with Verdugo smashing a two-run shot to open up the score and put the Red Sox up by five.
For the eighth, Michael Feliz got the call, and though he walked the first batter he faced he was able to get out of the inning with only three batters coming to the plate thanks to a fly out and a double play. That just left the ninth with the score now 8-2, and Hirokazu Sawamura got the call. He couldn’t get it done, recording only one out while loading the bases, leading to Austin Davis getting called in. The southpaw did give up a couple runs on a sacrifice fly and a bloop single, but he managed to end the game before things got too dramatic.
The 8-4 win pushed the Red Sox record to 82-65. Earlier today, the Blue Jays dropped their game to the Rays while the Yankees won their series opener against Baltimore. Those results, combined with Boston’s win, creates a virtual tie between the three teams at the top of this wildcard race. Seattle falls to three back while Oakland, who lost on Tuesday, falls to 3.5 back.
The Red Sox and Mariners now have a rubber match on the docket for Thursday, with Tanner Houck going for Boston and Marco Gonzales getting the start for Seattle. First pitch is set for 4:10 PM ET.