The resilience is back for this Red Sox team. It was a quality that defined them for so much of the first half of the season, and after a month in which it was absent, it’s back. Boston is dealing with major roster issues as COVID runs through the clubhouse, but they’re winning games. Saturday was their fourth victory in a row, and it was a fun one. The offense struggled for most of the game to overshadow a strong showing from Tanner Houck. But Rafael Devers came through with a big three-run homer, and while that lead was erased with a tough day for Adam Ottavino, Alex Verdugo immediately answered back with a walk-off hit to end the game.
With the Red Sox starting to roll a bit here over the last couple of weeks despite a COVID issue, they were hoping to lean a bit on their starting pitcher in this game with Houck. And the righty delivered. He has been starting to lean more on his splitter of late, and that came through in this one as well. Cleveland was kept off-balance for the duration of his start, and on the rare occasion there was trouble he worked his way out of it.
An example of that came right at the start of the game, with Daniel Johnson kicking off the afternoon with a base hit. But Houck immediately got a double play from there, and struck out José Ramírez to end the inning. He’d then allow just a single in the second, striking out two more in the process to get out of that inning.
The third saw his most trouble of the day to that point, with old friend Ryan Lavarnway starting the frame with a double into left field that rolled all the way to the wall. With a runner in scoring position and nobody out, Houck answered back by inducing a pop up and two more strikeouts — giving him five through three — to escape the inning with a shutout still in hand.
Over the next two innings, the righty turned on cruise control. He retired six in a row to get through the fifth, but his day was over from there. It was a tremendous start — he struck out six over five scoreless without issuing a walk — and he only threw 68 pitches. But the Red Sox are still trying to avoid him seeing a lineup for a third time, so they pulled him. This is something I’ve defended in the past, and I do still see the merit, but I think an opponent like Cleveland is a time where they could continue to push it.
But another reason why Alex Cora was acting so aggressively was that the game was still tied despite Houck not allowing a run. The offense was struggling themselves going up against young Cleveland righty Eli Morgan. His fastball in particular was eating them up, and they were unable to take advantage of leadoff runners in nearly every inning.
Case in point: Kyle Schwarber started the bottom half of the first inning by hitting a ground rule double out to right field, but he was left standing there. Morgan worked around a leadoff walk in the second as well, and after a perfect third he worked around a leadoff single in the fourth.
With the game still scoreless heading into the bottom of the fifth, the offense got the first two men on for the first time in the game thanks to a single and a walk. Jonathan Araúz then moved the runners up with a bunt, but Schwarber popped one up and Rafael Devers grounded out, stranding a pair in scoring position and keeping the game knotted up at goose eggs.
That brought us to the sixth with Houck out of the game and Austin Davis entering out of the bullpen. The southpaw struggled, giving up a leadoff double. Andrés Giménez then quickly stole third, and after a pop up and a ground out the Red Sox opted to intentionally walk Ramírez. Davis then had to get Bobby Bradley, but instead issued a walk. Suddenly the bases were full and Hansel Robles was coming in.
The righty got the out he needed, but not conventionally. Harold Ramirez hit a ball right back up the chute, and it deflected off Robles’ foot. Fortunately, it kicked right over to Bobby Dalbec at first base, who recorded the out and kept the inning alive. Robles did appear to be banged up after the play, however.
After the Red Sox wasted another double in the sixth, this one from Alex Verdugo, it was Phillips Valdez coming in for the seventh. He was able to come through with a nine-pitch perfect frame.
Now into the Cleveland bullpen in the bottom of the sixth, the Red Sox again got the leadoff man on base with a single, and quickly to second on a bunt. Araúz then hit a ground ball up the middle that resulted in an out but also pushed Vázquez to third base. With the go-ahead 90 feet away, Schwarber was coming back up with two outs and he drew a walk to put men on the corners for Devers. He came through. It was a great at bat, taking two big pitches after falling behind 1-2 to fill up the count. And then Blake Parker threw a fastball and Devers crushed it to center field for a three-run shot.
The Red Sox now had the first damage of the game, and it was a 3-0 lead heading into the eighth with Valdez coming back on. It was another perfect frame for the righty, and the Red Sox held their lead.
That just left one inning to get through, and Adam Ottavino was on the mound to try and close it out. He got off to a tough start with Ramírez ripping a leadoff base hit, which was followed by a double into the left field corner by Bobby Bradley. That brought Ramírez home, and suddenly Cleveland was within two with a man on second and nobody out. But then Ottavino got a ground ball, a strikeout to put himself one out away from victory. Instead, he left a 2-2 fastball middle-in to Franmil Reyes, who hit it way out to left field for a two-run show. And with that, we were tied.
Ottavino did get out of it, but now Boston had to walk it off if they were going to get a win. They got the winning run on base right away when Travis Shaw led off with an infield single as a pinch hitter. Araúz followed that up with his second sac bunt of the game — and it was the team’s third of the day, their highest total since 1993 — to move up pinch runner Taylor Motter into scoring position. Now it was up to the top of the order, and two walks — one regular, one intentional — loaded the bases with two down for Alex Verdugo. He got the job done, ripping a hit over the head of the right fielder to walk it off.
The 4-3 victory pushed the Red Sox record to 79-59. With the Yankees losing to the Orioles today, Boston is now within a half-game for the top wildcard spot. Meanwhile, Toronto beat the Athletics, which pushed the Red Sox lead over Oakland for the top wildcard spot to four games. Toronto’s deficit stayed at five games. Seattle entered the day trailing the Red Sox by four games, and they play Arizona later tonight.
The Red Sox finish up their three-game set with Cleveland on Sunday. Nick Pivetta takes on Zach Plesac in that one, with first pitch set for 1:10 PM ET.