The Red Sox won the chess match. The Orioles won the shootout.
After Jonathan Herrera singled in Jonny Gomes in the ninth inning to give the Red a 3-2 win in the first game of the day-night doubleheader Saturday at Fenway Park, Nelson Cruz dominated the nightcap, powering the Orioles to a 7-4 win.
Before the ninth inning arrived in Game 1, Red Sox manager John Farrell was plotting every possible move.
With two lefthanded batters scheduled to hit in the inning, one way or another, the Orioles were sending a lefty to the mound.
It could’ve been Zach Britton and his 12 saves, his 1.42 ERA, and his six-game scoreless streak.
It could’ve been Brian Matusz, who was holding lefthanders to a .228 batting average.
It could’ve been T.J. McFarland, who had a 1.74 ERA in six career appearances against the Red Sox.
But it was going to be a lefty.
With the game tied in the bottom of the eighth, Matusz and McFarland were both throwing in the bullpen.
Herrera, meanwhile, had been up since the fifth inning, stretching, throwing, swinging, getting loose in case Farrell called on him later.
“As a utility player, you need to have a routine,” Herrera said. “That’s my routine.”
Gomes was doing the same. Four of his previous 11 appearances had been as a pinch hitter.
“I’ll tell you what,” Gomes said. “Pinch hitting’s not easy. Not that I need any applause.”
Gomes and Herrera had both seen the field just once in a little over a week.
But when Orioles manager Buck Showalter decided to go with McFarland in the ninth, they both knew the call from Farrell was coming and the Red Sox came away with the walkoff win because they were able to answer it.
The Sox had few answers in the nightcap.
Manny Machado went 2 for 5 in his return from a five-game suspension, Nelson Cruz put up a career-high five hits, and 16 hits propped up the Orioles’ 7-4 win.
Cruz crushed a homer off the AAA sign above the Monster (his 27th of the season) and smacked two doubles, finishing the game with three extra-base hits for the fifth time in his career.
“He’s swinging a hot bat,” Farrell said. “Looks strong.”
Facing a notoriously aggressive and free-swinging Orioles lineup, John Lackey found himself going to his off-speed arsenal to keep hitters off-balance but still struggled, giving up five runs and 10 hits in just 5⅓ innings.
The Sox, who’ve watched their offense flicker on and off all season, mustered just six hits against six Orioles pitchers after putting up nine in the afternoon.
They were able to come away with their sixth walkoff win of the season in Game 1 by doing the littlest things right when the game was on the line.
Farrell sent the righty-hitting Gomes to the plate for Stephen Drew to lead off the ninth, even though Drew had homered in the second inning.
Gomes shot a ground ball deep into the hole at shortstop. J.J. Hardy got to it, but his one-hopper to first was too late to get Gomes.
“Nothing new on my end, actually,” Gomes said. “Just anything to get on.”
David Ross moved Gomes into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt.
Then Farrell started weighing his options.
He knew he wanted to pinch hit for Jackie Bradley Jr.
Mookie Betts was one option, but sending a 21-year-old to the plate in a tie game in the ninth with just 15 at-bats under his belt would’ve been asking too much.
“In that spot, it’s probably a little unfair to Betts,” Farrell said.
Bradley had two hits up to that point, but Farrell wanted to play the matchups.
“When Herrera’s been in the game against lefthanded pitching over the last four or five opportunities for him, his righthanded swing has been consistent,” Farrell said of the switch-hitter. “He’s made hard contact. He’s been putting up good at-bats against lefthanders.”
McFarland fed Herrera two fastballs. Herrera let the first whiz below his knees, then he swatted the second one into center field, shattering his bat in the process.
The looper drifted into tricky territory between second baseman Jonathan Schoop and center fielder Adam Jones, but with a chance to win the game Gomes figured he’d take the risk.
“That’s just one of those plays,” Gomes said. “I mean, if he makes that catch, I’ll be on ‘SportsCenter’ with you. Congratulations. But if he doesn’t, that’s the win. That’s the risk and the reward going into those late innings.”
Schoop stretched his glove out, but the ball was by him.
When Gomes picked himself up after sliding headfirst into the plate, Brock Holt was waiting for him, arms extended. A flood of red jerseys followed out of the Sox dugout.
For all of the one-run games the Sox have bitten their nails through this season — this was the 33d, 15 of them wins — they walked off the field knowing all the dominoes had fallen the right way.
“Guys stayed prepared,” Farrell said. “They understood the game and they executed well.”
The Sox got their sixth walkoff win of the year by getting two pinch hits in the ninth.
“Two pinch-hit hits is pretty rare in a single game,” said Gomes, who’s 3 for 10 as a pinch hitter this season. “Normally, that’s like a week.”
It washed away the three errors that allowed the Orioles to get back into the game in the first place after the Sox jumped out to a 2-0 lead, and even though he didn’t factor into the decision, it ensured that the eight innings Jon Lester pitched without allowing an earned run didn’t go to waste.
In a season in which it’s felt like momentum has had the hiccups, the Sox came away less concerned about taking the victory as a sign of progress. They were content with clawing out a by-any-means win.Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.