The inability to hit with runners in scoring position was becoming more of an identity for the Red Sox than a statistical quirk. Not even their best players were immune.
The troubling trend continued in the early innings against the Oakland Athletics on Friday night, the Red Sox creating opportunities that only added to their league-leading total of runners left on base.
As he stood on third base in the sixth inning, rookie shortstop Xander Bogaerts saw Dustin Pedroia coming to the plate and suspected all that was about to change.
“I always say this: Great players do great things. That’s the kind of guy Dustin in. He’s one of our leaders,” Bogaerts said. “He was the right person there.”
Pedroia said afterward he was looking to drive in one run. But he got four instead, a grand slam propelling the Red Sox to a 7-1 victory before 34,850 at Fenway Park.
“Just a little bit of relief,” said manager John Farrell, whose expression suggested it was a lot more than that.
The Sox had 11 hits, five for extra bases, and drew seven walks in support of Clay Buchholz, who was the sharpest he has been since last season. It came against an Oakland team with the best record in the American League.
The Sox had lost three of four to fall into last place in the American League East and had won only two of the previous seven games at home, including being swept in a doubleheader by the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday. Something was needed, and Pedroia provided it.
It was the second grand slam of Pedroia’s career and the shot to left field helped him reach two milestones. The home run was the 100th of his career and gave him 503 RBIs.
Pedroia became the 27th player in Red Sox history with at least 100 homers and 500 RBIs.
Only Pedroia and Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski have had at least 100 homers, 500 RBIs, and 100 stolen bases while members of the Red Sox.
“That’s crazy. I guess I’m getting old,” Pedroia said. “Just having your name anywhere said with his is an accomplishment.”
The Red Sox had a slippery grip on a 2-1 lead going into the sixth inning, having left six runners on base.
Bogaerts and A.J. Pierzynski started the inning with singles off reliever Dan Otero. Will Middlebrooks struck out swinging at a high fastball but Jackie Bradley Jr. drew a walk to load the bases.
Oakland, which made liberal use of its bullpen in the middle innings, called in another righthander, Ryan Cook, to face Pedroia.
The first three pitches from Cook were all sliders high in the strike zone. Pedroia took the first for a strike, fouled off the second and drove the third one just over the wall in left field.
A fan in the front row of the Monster Seats tried to grab the ball before it landed and the umpires reviewed the play. The call stood and Fenway celebrated again.
Pedroia had gone 163 at-bats between home runs, the last one coming on Sept. 17. He hadn’t had an extra-base hit of any kind since a double on April 22.
“I’m feeling good. I’m still trying to make adjustments every day trying to get better. I was pretty excited to hit a home run. It’s been a while,” Pedroia said.
Pedroia was able to swing with his customary furor and follow through smoothly, something a torn ligament in his left thumb made difficult last season.
Once his swing is consistent, home runs are a product.
“I can’t try to hit home runs. But I know they’ll come,” he said. “I feel like that’s getting closer.”
As his teammates finally flourished at the plate, Buchholz (2-2) was sharp. The righthander allowed one run on three hits over 6⅓ innings with three walks and five strikeouts.
Buchholz was efficient, throwing 65 of his 110 pitches for strikes. He also showed his best velocity of the season and even worked at what for him was a decent pace.
After an uneven start to his season, Buchholz has given up four earned runs on nine hits over his last 13⅓ innings. Of greater significance was the power behind his fastball and the ability to throw his secondary pitches with greater definition.
As Farrell described it, Buchholz gets more depth with his curveball and greater tilt on his slider as his arm strength increases.
“It seems to be coming along pretty well,” Buchholz said. “I think that was the last phase that I was getting through, getting the arm strength fully back and trusting the pitches as I throw them.’’
Buchholz worked out of jams in the fifth and sixth innings as Oakland left two runners on base each time. Buchholz got the first out in the seventh inning before walking Jaso. That got Farrell out of the dugout.
The manager clapped his hands together as he approached the mound and slapped Buchholz on the back as he headed off for the dugout with the crowd applauding.
Pedroia was 2 for 3 with two walks. Bradley was on base three times, drove in a run, and made a terrific catch in center field in the eighth inning that led to a double play.
Now 14-16, the Red Sox will have Jon Lester on the mound on Saturday afternoon against Tommy Milone.
“Maybe that was the hit that gets us going,” Bogaerts said. “It feels like it. I know a lot of people were happy somebody came through.”