A.J. Pierzynski turned to a few players after Tuesday night’s 12-inning win over the Reds and told them, “Don’t be afraid to get to .500.”
He was having fun with it, of course, but in eight tries to draw an even record, the Red Sox had failed.
So the Sox were not afraid on the ninth attempt. They defeated the Cincinnati Reds, 4-3, Wednesday night to lock up a 17-17 record and a 5-3 homestand.
After an offday Thursday, they play the Rangers in Arlington, Texas, in a three-game set starting Friday.
Could getting to .500 be a launching pad for the team?
Could the game be a launching pad for Will Middlebrooks, who delivered the winning hit in a two-run eighth inning in which Pierzynski had a ground-rule double down the right-field line that tied the score at 3?
“I’ve been frustrated, but regardless if you’re 10 for 10 or 0 for 10 or whatever, you’re happy to contribute to a win any way possible,” Middlebrooks said.
Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes walked back-to-back before Pierzynski’s run-scoring double, and Jackie Bradley Jr. was intentionally walked to load the bases for Middlebrooks, who singled up the middle off J.J. Hoover to drive in Gomes.
“He’d been throwing some balls, obviously,” Middlebrooks said. “He threw me some offspeed early for balls off the plate. Once it was full count I knew he was going to come right after me with the heater. He didn’t want to walk me in that situation.”
Middlebrooks said the key was “laying off a 2-2 slider to get to a full count. I saw it pretty well out of his hand and once I got to that point . . . get a heater there. Last thing he wants to do is walk you.”
Middlebrooks entered the at-bat hitting .200 after grounding into a double play and a force play as well as working a walk.
“The hits haven’t been there the last few days but my approach is right where I want it to be,” he said. “I’m swinging at what I want to swing at, and taking what I want to take. I think I hit the ball at shortstop about 105 times over the last week. It got a little frustrating, but it’s part of the game. You’ve got to make the adjustments.”
The Sox had trailed, 2-0, then tied it at 2. The Reds took a 3-2 lead in the seventh before the Sox got their two in the eighth to take the lead. Koji Uehara earned his eighth save of the season.
Sox starter Jake Peavy didn’t get any support early, and allowed a two-run homer in the third to Skip Schumaker, but he pitched well until the seventh when he loaded the bases with nobody out in a 2-2 game.
He allowed a double off the wall to Todd Frazier, a single to left by Brayan Pena, and walked Ryan Ludwick. That brought manager John Farrell out of the dugout after Peavy’s 97th pitch.
The ball was handed to lefthander Chris Capuano, who battled Roger Bernadina. He hit a soft grounder to second and although Dustin Pedroia performed a circus act to get the throw off to first in time, the go-ahead run scored.
Farrell then summoned sinkerballer Burke Badenhop, who had induced a one-pitch double play grounder Tuesday night.
With runners at second and third, one out, and the infield in, Badenhop faced Chris Heisey. He grounded to third, and Middlebrooks threw home to nail Pena.
With runners at the corners, Badenhop got Zack Cozart to tap one down the first-base line. Catcher Pierzynski pounced on it and made a strong, accurate throw to first to record the third out.
“[Badenhop] gave us some energy and gave us a chance to win the game,” Pierzynski said. “He had a great sinker, got some ground balls. He did everything perfectly out there.”
Badenhop has not allowed a run over his last 12 innings.
“Just trying to stay down in the zone,” he said. “Walking a tightrope there with runners at second and third. Will made a good play, and then Cozart tops one and A.J. makes a good play.
“It gets your adrenaline going. You want to be in there when the game is on the line. The last couple of days feel different. After the game [Tuesday], A.J. was telling people don’t be scared to get to .500. As you saw, Will got a big hit. Hopefully we’re starting to hit our stride.”
Mike Leake cruised through the first five innings, but the Sox finally got to him in the sixth.
He allowed a single to substitute shortstop Jonathan Herrera, who was giving Xander Bogaerts the night off. After a Pedroia strikeout, Shane Victorino stroked a wall single, sending Herrera to third. David Ortiz roped a single to right, scoring Herrera, and Napoli scorched a double to right, scoring Victorino with the tying run.
Getting to .500 was difficult, but Farrell never thought it got the team down.
“It’s a number,” he said. “I didn’t think it would take until May 7 to do it. We’re back to par and ready to go down to Texas.
“I don’t think it was a mental hurdle,” he added. “I never heard too many of us mention that we’re bumping up against .500 and taking a step back. It was just more of a situation inside games where we had opportunities that we haven’t cashed in on; finally we do tonight. You can’t overlook the work of Capuano and Badenhop in that seventh inning to minimize the damage. That gives us a chance to get to .500 tonight.”
Farrell said Uehara looked more “Koji-like” than in recent outings.
“Much more sharp,” he said. “Last few times out he’s been across himself with his direction and his delivery, away from crispness and command on his stuff.”Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.