That sucked. The Red Sox were ahead for most of the day on Saturday, looking to bounce back from a tough loss on Friday, but the eighth inning was just mired in mistakes. Tanner Houck issued a big two-out walk to keep the inning alive, and then Alex Cora decided to bring in a wild Darwinzon Hernandez to try and finish out the inning with two men on. The end result was a Giancarlo Stanton grand slam, a wildly frustrating loss, and a tie atop the wildcard race.
On Friday night to start a huge series, the Red Sox not only watched their de facto ace of 2021 get hit around early and often, but also had to use a lot of their long relief depth in the process as well. It was a frustrating evening, and certainly far from the start they were looking for to this big series, but it was also just one game at the end of the day. They just needed Nick Pivetta to come out and shove, and things would be looking up again.
There was a little bit of fair concern to that end coming into the game, as the righty has been an absolute roller coaster all year, and in his only matchup against the Yankees this season he got knocked out before completing a second inning of work. But the thing about a rollercoaster is it goes in both directions, and a good one does so at unpredictable times. Pivetta played that role deftly for most of his outing on Saturday.
The righty had some of the best stuff we saw all year from him, and with all of his pitches working he was able to keep New York off-balance all night long. There weren’t any whiffs in his first inning of work, but he didn’t let a ball out of the infield in a perfect inning. He’d come back from a hard-hit single that led off the second with three straight strikeouts for another scoreless frame.
He only kept cruising from there, and in fact would only give up that one baserunner through his first five innings of work. And he only got stronger from there too, striking out the side in the fifth for a bit of added emphasis.
The issue is that, after struggling most of the night on Friday against Gerrit Cole, they had trouble adjusting to a different kind of pitcher in Nester Cortes. The Yankees lefty gets his share of strikeouts, but does it with a bit more finesse. Whatever the process, it worked early at Fenway as the southpaw retired the first seven batters he faced.
But then the eighth batter came to the plate, and that was Kevin Plawecki. The backup catcher has cooled a bit at the plate after putting up a strong showing in the first half of the year in limited playing time, but he made an impact here. On a 1-0 cutter just a bit down and in in the zone, Plawecki hit a no-doubter out to left field that hit off the stanchion for a solo homer, giving the Red Sox their first lead of the weekend.
It was still a 1-0 game heading into the bottom half of the fifth, with Cortes still going for New York. Kyle Schwarber started the inning with a base hit into right field, and after a deep fly ball from Bobby Dalbec was caught right in front of the wall, Plawecki knocked Cortes out of the game with a single of his own, bringing on Michael King with two on and one out.
José Iglesias was the first batter he faced, and while he barely made contact a little swinging bunt to the left side loaded up the bases for the top of the order. King got to a 1-2 count against Kiké Hernández, but yanked a breaking ball all the way to the backstop to make it a 2-0 game. But the Red Sox couldn’t get the hit they needed to really open this one up, with Hernández and Renfroe both striking out to end the inning.
As we made our way into the sixth, the Yankees were finally about to get their first baserunner since the second when Gio Urshela lined one just out of reach of a diving Xander Bogaerts. That would be the start of trouble, as Brett Gardner followed it up with a double to put a pair in scoring position, still with just one out, and Aaron Judge coming to the plate.
That would mark the end of the afternoon for Pivetta, with Hansel Robles coming into a tough spot to try and hold this lead for Boston. He could not have gotten off to a worse start, throwing his first pitch to the backstop, bringing in the first run of the day for New York. But in the next at bat, Judge hit a chopper to the left side with the infield in, and Rafael Devers got Gardner at the plate with the runner off on contact. That helped Robles get out of the inning with no further damage, getting a pop up from Anthony Rizzo to keep the lead in hand.
It was still a one-run game heading into the seventh after the offense failed to capitalize on a leadoff single, and Tanner Houck got the call for Boston. He struggled to find the plate to start the outing, throwing eight straight balls to start his outing and put the first two men on. But after a mound visit from Dave Bush, he started the next at bat with a strike before getting a perfect double play ball. That still left the tying run at third, however, with one more out to get and Gary Sánchez at the plate. Houck came through with a couple of great sliders to get a strikeout and somehow get out of the inning without any runs coming across.
The offense again failed to add insurance in the bottom of the seventh, bringing Houck back out for the eighth. This inning got off to a much better start with Houck striking out the first two batters he faced, but then Gardner worked a walk to bring Judge to the plate with the tying run on base and two outs. Gardner would swipe second base in that at bat as well to put that tying run in scoring position, but Houck would walk Judge as well.
That would be his last batter, as Alex Cora called for the left-handed Darwinzon Hernandez to try and finish off the inning against Rizzo. It was a questionable call given the lefty’s control issues, and sure enough he hit Rizzo on what would have been ball four anyway to load the bases for Stanton. And it only took one pitch for the game to change. Hernandez threw a first-pitch fastball right down the heart of the plate, and Stanton hit a grand slam to suddenly put the Yankees up by three.
Now the pressure was on for the offense to mount a comeback of their own. Instead, they managed just a hit batter in a scoreless eighth. That left a three-run deficit in the ninth, and they did close it to two with a one-out solo homer from Bobby Dalbec. After that, a hit batter — Plawecki was hit in the foot and had to leave the game — brought the tying run to the plate, but the Red Sox couldn’t do anything more.
The 5-3 loss dropped the Red Sox record to 88-67 and also created a tie atop the wildcard race with the Yankees. Both Toronto and Seattle started the day trailing Boston by three games, and both play tonight.
The Red Sox now look to avoid a sweep on Sunday with Eduardo Rodriguez taking the mound against Jordan Montgomery. First pitch is set for 7:08 PM ET.