Some rare timely defense won this game.
For the last month or so, the Red Sox have been losing games just like the won we saw on Wednesday. Chris Sale didn’t really have his best stuff, and the offense was struggling to put together rallies. There was even a comically bad baserunning decision thrown in for good measure. But they did win. Sale worked around his relative lack of stuff, and the defense actually had a big game. They turned three double plays and converted a couple of huge outs at the plate on ground balls. Throw in a clutch homer from Christian Vázquez, a big hit from Jarren Duran, and a huge performance from the bullpen with Garrett Whitlock and Adam Ottavino. In short, they did the little things and it felt like June for today at least.
With the way things are going for the Red Sox of late, having lost their last three games as well as seemingly losing a player to the COVID list every few hours, they were just looking for any sliver of hope, just something to hang our hat on as a chance they might win the game. And for Wednesday night, it was the starter. With Sale on the mound, it always feels like the Red Sox have a chance. But this didn’t look like the best version of Sale, as he was fighting traffic for pretty much the duration of his outing, though he still managed to work his way out of it more often than not.
That sure was the case in the first couple of innings, as the Red Sox ace didn’t get a strikeout — a surprising fact given that the Rays strike out at one of the highest rates in baseball — but did allow some baserunners. In the first, he put the first two men on base with a hit batter and a single, but he got two straight ground balls after that, the second of which was turned for a double play to end the inning. Similarly, he allowed the first two to reach in the second on a single and a walk, but again he escaped. This time it was a pop up and a double play, and he had the Rays off the board to start the game.
Over on the other side, the Red Sox offense was facing Drew Rasmussen, a converted reliever who throws hard and can miss bats. Boston certainly learned that the hard way here, with the Rays righty striking out the first four batters he faced. But with one out in the second, the Red Sox lineup got going a bit, with some help from old friend Manuel Margot. Alex Verdugo hit a fly ball out to shallow center field, and Margot failed in his attempt to make a sliding grab. That allowed Verdugo to get over to third on a triple, and he’d soon come in on a base hit from Christian Vázquez.
Margot did make another mistake on that base hit as well, with the bounce eating him up. That error put Vázquez over to second base and gave the Red Sox a chance to add to their 1-0 lead, but the new-look bottom of the lineup that was all just in Worcester within the last week couldn’t get it done.
And of course, the Rays offense was able to get to Sale in the third. He did finally tally his first strikeout of the evening in that inning, but after the K Nelson Cruz kept the inning alive with a two-out single. And that would prove costly. Sale didn’t make a terrible pitch to Wander Franco, tossing a fastball up above the zone on the outer half. But Franco is a special talent, and he drove it out to right field for a two-run shot. And with that, the Rays were out in front.
Sale did push on from there, tossing a couple more scoreless frames in the fourth and fifth, including his first perfect inning in the fifth. He had one more inning in him for the night, and the sixth saw more traffic from the Rays that Sale was again able to work around. In the end, he allowed just those two runs over six innings, working around six hits, two walks, and two hit batters while striking out three. It wasn’t his sharpest start, but the results were just fine.
But still, the offense needed to get to work. They had a chance in the fifth, with Vázquez leading off the inning with a base hit, which knocked Rasmussen out of the game. Jonathan Araúz would then keep the inning alive with a two-out walk, bringing Kyle Schwarber to the plate. His base hit through the right side seemed to keep the inning alive as well, but Carlos Febles made a terrible decision to send Vázquez and he was thrown out by almost a literal mile to end the inning.
Fortunately the seventh brought a better story. With Collin McHugh on the mound, Vázquez stepped to the plate with one out and the bases empty. He jumped all over the first pitch he saw, which was a curveball that stayed in the zone down and in, getting up and over the wall to tie this game up at two runs apiece.
With the new ballgame in hand, it was Garrett Whitlock coming in for the seventh. He immediately got into trouble, with the first pitch he threw getting into center field for a leadoff double. Joey Wendle then moved up to third base on a deep fly out before a ground ball was hit to Rafael Devers with the contact play on. Wendle was off for the plate, and Vázquez made a nice play on a low throw to collect the ball and apply the tag for a huge second out. Whitlock got out of it from there to keep the game tied.
He’d come back out for the eighth as well after his offense went down in order, and just like in the seventh the inning started with a double. Again like the previous frame, the runner moved to third on an out, and the mirror image continued when Franco was thrown out on the contact play when a grounder was hit right at Araúz. Whitlock did balk the other runner over to second, but a strikeout ended the inning with the score still 2-2.
Moving ahead to the ninth, it was the Red Sox offense making some noise. Devers started the inning with a leadoff base hit, and a couple batters later Verdugo reached on an infield single. That put two men on with one out, and after a strikeout Jarren Duran came up and came through. He put a base hit through the right side, bringing Devers home and giving the Red Sox a one-run lead.
That just left one more inning to get through, with Adam Ottavino getting the save opportunity. He made it stress-free, retiring all three batters he faced to end the inning and the game.
The 3-2 victory pushed the Red Sox record to 76-59. Boston started the day trailing New York by two games for the top wildcard spot while they led Oakland by a game for the second spot, with Seattle trailing by 3.5 and Toronto by 4.5. The Yankees, Blue Jays, and Mariners all won to keep those margins the same, while Oakland dropped their game to give Boston a two-game cushion.
The Red Sox now have a chance to salvage a split in this four-game set if they can get a win on Thursday. Boston will have Eduardo Rodriguez on the mound with Shane McClanahan going for Tampa Bay. First pitch is set for 7:10 PM ET.