MINNEAPOLIS — It was another one-run win. Just like the night before.
The Red Sox are 7-4 in one-run games and this is a good sign.
It means they are coming up with the big hit at the right time. It means their bullpen is holding leads. It means they’re scoring late in games. It means their starting pitcher is keeping them in games. It’s all good. Look at the Orioles, who won 29 one-run games last season en route to 93 wins.
And so the Red Sox have added a new dimension in 2013. An essential dimension.
“I don’t know, man,” sighed Dustin Pedroia. “Too much stress. Too much pressure. I love that we’re winning them, but I’d rather win them bigger.”
It is true. Especially winning one-run games in extra innings like the Red Sox did Friday night when Jonny Gomes lofted a based-loaded sacrifice fly to center in the 10th to score Pedroia for a 3-2 victory.
“I know it’s important,” Pedroia said. “When you come out of a game like this you feel a sense of accomplishment. A win is a win and no matter how you do it, it’s a good thing. But it means you’re doing things the right way. It means you’re pitching good and hitting good at the right time.”
The 2012 Orioles are a great example. By beating the Rays, 1-0, in their final regular-season game, Baltimore finished with a .763 winning percentage (29-9) in one-run games, the third-best winning percentage ever behind the 1883 Cleveland Blues (16-3, .842) and 1890 Brooklyn Bridegrooms (14-4, .778). The 1981 Orioles had a .750 winning percentage (21-7).
Some people said the Orioles got lucky last year. OK, maybe there was some luck, but they still had to do all of those things that go into winning one-run games.
How about the fact that they didn’t buckle in close games? Does that mean anything? Who wouldn’t want to score 10 runs a game and blow out the opposition every night? But that doesn’t happen, so when the going got tough, the Orioles got going. They’d won games with late home runs and walkoff hits, and their bullpen held leads.
Only positives come out of one-run wins. There’s tremendous team bonding. Confidence builds with each close victory. What’s wrong with that?
The Red Sox have found new ways to win, too.
On Thursday night Will Middlebrooks won it with a three-run double in the ninth, giving the Sox a 4-3 victory over the Rays. On Friday night Middlebrooks laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt in the 10th to move Pedroia and pinch runner Pedro Ciriaco (who ran for David Ortiz) into scoring position.
After Stephen Drew was walked intentionally to load the bases with one out, Gomes lofted a fly to center to get the run in.
In the bottom of the 10th Koji Uehara struck out two to get his first save with the Sox.
Along the way Pedroia made two great defensive plays, helping to offset his two inning-ending double plays.
“I think with our team, we feel we can come back and win games,” Pedroia said. “We play all the way through. I think that’s important because we’ve seen what playing always the way through does — it helps you win. We’re winning close, late games. There’s no question you build confidence as a team when you can do that.”
Pedroia said the Red Sox can take the stress and pressure that come with close games and turn it into a positive.
Pitching in a tie game, Andrew Miller struck out three batters in 1⅔ innings. That’s pressure. That’s stress. But he survived and excelled. It made him and the Red Sox a better team for having gone through it.
That 2-2 game could have easily gone the other way. The Red Sox could have made an error or the Twins might have hit a walkoff homer.
Winning one-run games shows you’re mentally in the game. You’re not tuning out. The defense is making plays, the pitchers are making pitches, and the hitters are doing something productive or creative to score the winning run.
“It was fun to win this one. It was a battle. Both teams went at each other good and we scored one more run,” Pedroia said.
There will be a number of blowouts that go one way or the other. There will be back-and-forth games and there’ll be close games. The team that wins the most close games will go far.
Forget this luck thing. It’s not luck. It’s determination, it’s concentration, and it’s skill.
Right now, the Red Sox are displaying that. If this team is successful, these last two games will be ones they can look back and say, “Those are the games that got us to where we are now.”