The Red Sox earned a split of their first two games against the Minnesota Twins on Saturday with a 4-0 win behind a couple of loud homers from Xander Boegarts and Alex Verdugo and an outstanding outing from Tanner Houck. After losing three of four to start the year, the Sox have won three of their last four and are back at .500 with a chance to inch above it and clinch at least a tie in the series on Sunday.
Twins starter Sonny Gray didn’t last long on Saturday and exited the game with two outs in the second because of some hamstring soreness. He got Bobby Dalbec to pop out and afterwards, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli and a trainer came out to visit. After a short conversation, Gray exited, leaving Josh Winder to get the final out of the second by striking out Jackie Bradley Jr.
In the bottom of the second, Alex Verdugo broke the ice with a two-run homer — his team-leading third of the season — to the deepest part of Fenway. Alex really laid into that ball, which reached 108.6 mph off of the bat and traveled 437 feet over the bullpens and into the bleachers.
The Sox struck for two again in the third inning. Enrique Hernández doubled to the left field corner with one out and moved over to third on a Rafael Devers groundout. Boegarts followed up with his first homer of the season, a two-run shot that would have landed on the Mass Pike had it not hit a sign on the Green Monster.
The Red Sox offense couldn’t muster any scoring for the rest of the game, but didn’t need to. The three-man team of Houck, Matt Strahm and Garrett Whitlock contained the explosive Twins lineups. They combined to shut out the Twins and stranded all 11 runners that reached base.
The Twins made Houck work hard to get through the first couple innings and, in proper Tanner Houck fashion, he fell into deep counts often. Still, despite falling behind, Houck didn’t allow any damage. And with a four run lead, he began to cruise. Minnesota threatened to score in the second when Nick Gordon drew a leadoff walk and Miguel Sano singled, but Houck recovered nicely, inducing a 5-4-3 double play from Jeffers and fielding a come-backer from Luis Arraez for the final out.
As the game wore on, Houck was more willing to be aggressive with his secondary pitches. He chose to attack when he had hitters on the ropes and avoided wasting throws. He threw 16 or more pitches in each of the first three innings, then just 19 in the fourth and fifth combined.
Behind him, the defense was sharp. Verdugo made a fine running catch on a sharp liner to end the fourth. In the fifth, Boegarts kicked off an impressive double play by sliding to his left to field a hard liner, then flipping to Story at second for the first half of a 6-4-3 double play.
Alex Cora lifted Houck with two outs in the sixth and the Red Sox starter left to a well-deserved hand from the home crowd. He shut the Twins out through 5.2 innings and struck out four while allowing just two hits and three walks.
Cora tabbed the top-shelf arms from his bullpen with shutting the door on the victory and they delivered. Strahm relieved Houck and tossed a scoreless inning. In the seventh, Strahm surrendered a double to Trevor Larnach and immediately, Cora turned to his bullpen, tabbing Garett Whitlock with shutting the door on a Twins rally.
Whitlock began his long outing by retiring Urshela with a three-pitch strikeout to end the seventh. He found himself in more trouble in the eighth, when the Twins put two men on with two out, but the reliable righty struck out Polanco on four pitches to end the threat and preserve his team’s four-run lead.
Whitlock pitched the ninth too and capped a dominant day with three quick, anticlimactic outs against the middle of the Minnesota order to secure a wire-to-wire win.
The Red Sox will be back in action tomorrow at 1:35 pm for the series finale against Minnesota. Bailey Ober and Michael Wacha will be the starting pitchers for that rubber match.