Alex Verdugo plays hero this time around.
This is a Red Sox season that, at least to this point, appears to be defined by comebacks. The resilience this team has shown is not something you see every season, and they came into Monday’s game against the Blue Jays having just completed perhaps their best comeback of the season on Sunday. Monday’s didn’t quite match it, but they did indeed come from behind again. The Red Sox had a lead early, but Nick Pivetta couldn’t hold on. Fortunately, Phillips Valdez gave the Red Sox 2 1⁄3 huge innings out of the bullpen without allowing a run, and it was just enough time for Alex Verdugo to slap a go-ahead homer in the eighth to give the Red Sox yet another win that felt stolen.
There is something of a debate among Red Sox fans right now as to whether or not the team needs to target a starting pitcher before Friday’s trade deadline. At the center of the argument, insofar as there is one person standing there, is Pivetta. The righty would arguably make the most sense to move out of a rotation role and into a relief role if another pitcher was acquired in a deal — with the assumption Garrett Richards goes for Chris Sale — so the crux of the argument is whether or not any upgrade the team could feasibly get over Pivetta in a trade is worth the cost in prospects they’d have to pay. The thing that’s so complicated about this conversation is the righty’s tendency to oscillate between looking like the upgrade will be easy to find, and looking like there isn’t a real upgrade available.
Monday night marked what is expected to be his final start before the deadline, and in a way his final chance to make the case he is worthy of a rotation spot for the rest of the season. Early on, he was solid, albeit with signs that his command wasn’t perfect here and there. For example, he walked the leadoff man and allowed him to skip up to second later in the inning on a wild pitch. Despite that, he got through the first two innings unscathed, allowing just a baserunner in each frame.
Over on the other side, the Red Sox offense had their best chance of this series to really put a crooked number up early going up against Thomas Hatch, making his first major-league appearance of the season. After stranding a runner on third in a scoreless first, they really pushed their foot down on the gas in the second. Hunter Renfroe started the inning off with a double off the wall in center field, and he’d quickly come home to score on a single from Verdugo.
With the Red Sox leading 1-0, they also had a runner right back in scoring position with Verdugo moving up on the throw home on the previous play. Hatch would then issue a walk before Franchy Cordero dropped a bloop single into left field, loading the bases with nobody out. Already up by one, this was a chance for the Red Sox to really put their grasp on this game early. Instead, they got one home on a ground out and that was all. A 2-0 lead after two innings is certainly not a bad thing, but it was hard not to feel like it was a missed opportunity to pile on.
And sure enough, the Blue Jays would make that regret nearly instant in the top half of the third. Pivetta didn’t help himself by allowing too many bats to be put on baseballs, but the reality is most of the damage in this inning came on weak contact. Reese McGuire started the inning with a weak ball out to left field, and then after a walk Toronto got back-to-back singles, neither with an exit velocity over 86 mph. With those two swings, Toronto had tied this game right back up at two.
Suddenly, it was Toronto’s chance to pile on and potentially take control of this game with two men on and nobody out, all the momentum on their side. But just like the Red Sox, they failed to do so. Pivetta got three straight outs, including one strikeout, to keep the damage at two runs.
Fortunately, it wouldn’t take Boston long to answer back. Rafael Devers was the second batter of the bottom of that third inning, and on a 1-0 count Hatch tried to get a fastball by the Red Sox third baseman. Devers went down and got the pitch down and in, hitting an absolute bullet out to the right field corner for a solo shot. With one swing, Boston was back up by a run.
They followed the homer up with a base hit rocketed off the Monster, but then Verdugo hit a potential double play over to the right side. The good news for the Red Sox is that Marcus Semien bobbled the baseball, forcing a late connection to Bo Bichette, which in turn resulted in a bad throw for the second out at first base. The bad news is replay appeared to show that Bichette hadn’t tagged the second base bag, so no outs should have been recorded, but the play was still upheld. Verdugo did move up to second on that bad throw, but the Red Sox did not score, and they settled for the one-run lead.
Pivetta, for his part did hold that lead through the fourth, but he’d come back out for the fifth with the score still 3-2, and things didn’t go as well. George Springer started that inning off with a double that ricocheted off the arm of Devers on a tough hop down the third base line, bouncing into the camera well. Pivetta came back with two outs after that, but then Bichette showed just how hard he can hit a baseball. The Blue Jays shortstop jumped all over a changeup down in the zone, rocketing a bullet into the Monster Seats for a two-run shot, and the Blue Jays were back out in front.
That homer ended the night for Pivetta, with Phillips Valdez coming in for Boston. He got the job done recording the final out of that inning, and then came out for a scoreless sixth as well. Boston’s offense, meanwhile, had nothing going, so it was still 4-3 heading into the seventh. Valdez was still in the game, and it looked like he’d have a bit of trouble there. Toronto got two men on with just one out, but then Valdez got a line drive over to Kiké Hernández at shortstop (it was a routine day off for Xander Bogaerts), who then doubled up Springer at second to end the inning with the deficit still at one. It didn’t seem huge at the time, but those innings from Valdez would be huge.
After the Red Sox again went down in order, their second straight inning doing so, Adam Ottavino came into the game. He was able to work around a one-out double for a scoreless inning, giving the Red Sox offense six more outs to work with to make up a one-run deficit.
Their season of comebacks would indeed continue in that eighth inning. Trevor Richards, who had cruised out of the bullpen coming into that inning, did get a quick first out before Hunter Renfroe broke up the streak of nine straight outs with a walk. That was apparently all the Red Sox needed. Verdugo came up next, and the day after he broke up Domingo Germán’s home run to spark a rally in the eighth, he completed one in this eighth. The lefty blasted a two-run shot out to right field, giving the Red Sox a 5-4 lead.
That just left things up to Matt Barnes, who had no trouble whatsoever. He easily retired all three batters he faced in the game, closing out the one-run victory. The win pushed the Red Sox record to 62-39, and with the Rays having the night off Boston now holds a 1.5-game lead in the division.
The Red Sox and Blue Jays continue their four-game set on Tuesday at Fenway, with Garrett Richards going for Boston while Robbie Ray gets the ball for the Jays. First pitch is set for 7:10 PM ET.