The Red Sox had a five-run lead in the eighth inning on Friday night. But reliever Edward Mujica was in trouble.
With two runners on and one out, Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes sent a ball express delivery to the wall in center field. Jackie Bradley Jr. took over from there.
The rookie center fielder raced back and caught the ball one step before bouncing off the padded wall. He then fired the ball back to the infield, hitting second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
Josh Donaldson was late getting back to first base and Pedroia doubled him off. That ended the inning and the Sox went on to win, 7-1.
“Right off the bat I knew where it was going to go,” Bradley said. “I started running back and looked back to check where it was again. From there I only had a few steps left to gauge it. I didn’t think anything about a double play. I caught it and looked up and saw the middle infielders going frantically, waving their hands. I just tried to make a strong throw.”
Bradley was impressed Cespedes hit the ball as far as he did. Cespedesstarted in left field for the first time since April 24. He missed four games with strained left hamstring then spent two games as the designated hitter.
“He’s a strong guy,” Bradley said. “He hit the ball off his front foot and off the top of his bat and it went to the wall. I had to get back there.”
Bradley also doubled in a run, walked twice, and scored a run. He is hitting .233, but with a .347 on-base percentage that is well above the league average of .324. Bradley also has 10 extra-base hits.
“He’s seeing more pitches at the plate. He’s getting on base multiple times a game. He’s settling in. He’s getting some at-bats under his belt at the big league level,” manager John Farrell said “He’s got some production mixed in there. He’s coming along fine.”
Said Bradley: “It’s coming. It’s coming. I can feel it. It’s starting to warm up, that’s also a plus. I’m starting to get a lot more comfortable and confident. Every single day you’re playing, you’re going to learn. That’s what I’ve been able to do, especially playing every day here lately.”
Bradley nearly made a spectacular catch in the third inning, chasing down a drive off the bat of John Jaso into the garage door opening in center. His leap was well timed but the ball rolled away for a triple.
“Should have caught that,” Bradley said.
Fellow rookie Xander Bogaerts, who played with Bradley in the minors, said to keep watching.
“He’s going to make some unbelievable plays,” Bogaerts said. “The guy is special in the outfield. The bat is coming, too. Once he’s going to that left-field gap, that means he’s figured it out. I’ve seen him hit a lot of doubles that way. Once he’s going good, he stays there.”
Oakland’s 25-man roster includes former Red Sox players Coco Crisp, Jed Lowrie, Brandon Moss, Nick Punto, and Josh Reddick.
Punto was back at Fenway Park for the first time since he was traded to the Dodgers along with Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez on Aug. 25, 2012.
Hitting coach Chili Davis and pitching coach Curt Young also have Red Sox coaching ties.
Davis was the hitting coach at Triple A Pawtucket and Young the pitching coach for the Sox in 2011.
Caron on sideline
Tom Caron, who usually hosts the pregame and postgame shows on NESN, was the sideline reporter for Friday’s game. Caron had that role during the 2002-03 seasons.
NESN has not yet named a new sideline reporter to replace Jenny Dell, who left the position after last season.
A rotating cast has handled the job since with Elle Duncan, Adam Pellerin, and Gary Striewski working the games.
NESN is searching for a full-time replacement.
Nava heating up
Daniel Nava, who was optioned to Pawtucket on April 22, was 7 for 21 in his first six games in the minors with two extra-base hits and a .400 on-base percentage.
Nava has started games in all three outfield spots and DH.
“He’s back to an approach that we saw here last year,” Farrell said. “The disappointment in going down has been short-lived, or it hasn’t filtered into his work in-between the lines, and he’s swinging the bat well.”
Farrell said that this point, it would take an injury for Nava to be recalled to the majors.
Maddon not a fan
Rays manager Joe Maddon took a little jab at Fenway Park on Thursday night after his team swept a day-night doubleheader. “Spending all day in Fenway’s diminutive clubhouse made it tough to win a split,” Maddon wrote on Twitter . . . Bradley lost an error when Major League Baseball changed a scoring call from the April 24 game against the Yankees at Fenway Park. Jacoby Ellsbury now has another double . . . Mike Napoli, who walked twice, has reached base in 25 straight games and 27 of his 28 games this season . . . The Sox have won 20 of their last 28 home games against Oakland . . . According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the doubleheader loss on Thursday marked the first time the Red Sox lost a pair of one-run games on the same day at Fenway after leading at some point in each game since a sweep at the hands of the Chicago White Sox on Aug. 25, 1934.
Varitek takes field
Former Red Sox catcher and team captain Jason Varitek, now a special assistant to general manager Ben Cherington, has been around the team the last few days and was in uniform for batting practice on Friday. Varitek has a variety of roles in baseball operations . . . Mark Ockerbloom of Fox 25 threw out the first pitch as part of Cancer Awareness Night. Ockerbloom is active with the Pan Mass Challenge and other charities in memory of his brother Carl, who died of cancer in 2004 . . . In conjunction with the Red Sox Foundation, Dennis and Jennifer Eckersley will host a screening of “Million Dollar Arm” on Saturday in Brookline. Invitations were issued to the Home for Little Wanders, Red Sox Scholars, and players from the team’s RBI program. One of the characters in the film, which opens on May 16, is former Red Sox international scouting director Ray Poitevint. He is portrayed by Alan Arkin.Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.