The Red Sox came out of the All-Star break and endured an eight-game losing streak that left them 12 games out of first place. Their ace, Clay Buchholz, was on the disabled list with a strained right flexor that likely would keep him out until September. They had been trying unsuccessfully to hold things together with glue and duct tape.
The Tigers were in no better condition.
They came to Fenway having lost seven of their previous 10 games. They had been stuck in third place in the AL Central since May 25 with no way to pull themselves up. Miguel Cabrera, the lineup’s tentpole, had been on the disabled list since July 4 with a left calf strain.
The commonality between the two teams was obvious to Sox manager John Farrell.
“It always comes down to the consistency from the mound,” Farrell said. “You look at any team that’s in contention, you look at teams thad advance deep into the postseason, you can probably point to pitching as an area of strength. And both teams have suffered injuries.”
The Tigers’ rotation had the second-worst ERA in the American League. The Red Sox were the worst in the AL.
So it was unexpected that the Sox found themselves in an 11-inning pitchers duel before Xander Bogaerts came through with a walkoff single that sealed their 2-1 win over the Tigers on Friday night at Fenway Park.
With Mookie Betts sitting on second after working a leadoff walk and being moved over by a Brock Holt sacrifice bunt, Bogaerts punched a 2-and-1 changeup into center field to push the winning run across.
The Sox managed to snap their eight-game losing streak thanks to a pitching staff that consistently shut down the Tigers.
“We put together a very good game on the mound,” Farrell said. “But the fact that, coming off a road trip where it was a bad road trip, to come back home here to walk off with a win . . . a big relief for guys that continue to grind away.”
The Tigers sent Justin Verlander to the mound to face former teammate Rick Porcello, and for the majority of the season neither looked remotely close to the pitchers that made the Tigers’ rotation one of the toughest in baseball for years.
Porcello has been pitching well after an awful eight-start stretch during which he was 0-7 with an 8.18 ERA. In his first career start against his former team, he put the clamps on the Tigers over seven innings of one-run ball. He struck out six and gave up just five hits. The only run the Tigers could scratch out against him came in the third inning when Jose Iglesias ripped a leadoff double over Alejandro De Aza’s head in left, then scored two at-bats later when Ian Kinsler roped a single to center to put the Tigers up, 1-0.
“Rick’s fastball was one of the better ones he’s had on the entire year,” Farrell said. “He was down in the strike zone, got a key ground-ball double play in the fourth inning. He was very good. Even in the couple of opportunities where they had additional runners in scoring position, he was able to get a key strikeout.”
Verlander had been a shadow of the pitcher that won the MVP and Cy Young Award in 2011. But he was sturdy against the Sox, retiring the first six batters he faced. The Sox weren’t able to get to him until the third inning, when Shane Victorino and Ryan Hanigan came up with back-to-back consecutive one-out hits and Brock Holt followed up two batters later with a line drive to center field for a single that scored Victorino to tie the score at 1.
Junichi Tazawa escaped a Tigers threat in the eighth inning. After getting Jose Iglesias and Anthony Gose to fly out to start the inning, Kinsler shot a 3-and-2 fastball off the wall in center field for a triple. After a mound visit from pitching coach Carl Willis, Tazawa and Hanigan regrouped with a plan to attack Yoenis Cespedes with fastballs. Tazawa got Cespedes to chase after a 3-and-2 fastball up and out of the zone to end the inning.
“I knew that walking him was not the worst thing to happen in that situation, so I wasn’t going to give in,” Tazawa said. “I was going to throw the ball high where Hanny was asking me to. I’m just glad that I was able to put up a zero in that situation.”
The strikeout was critical, Farrell said.
“That might be the at-bat of the game,” Farrell said. “Cespey’s such a good RBI guy and [we were] trying to elevate some fastballs. Taz has been in so many games with his back against the wall and he continues to do just a great job for us.”
Koji Uehara took over in the ninth and pitched two perfect innings before giving way to Justin Masterson in the 11th. Masterson worked himself into a first-and-second jam with one out, but got out of it with a double play, striking out Victor Martinez, followed by Hanigan catching Kinsler trying to steal third.
“He’s been in that situation before, even in his time as a reliever before converting to a starter,” Farrell said of Masterson. “It was the reason why we went to him. He’s been there before.”
Between innings, Bogaerts glanced at the scoreboard.
“I saw the Yankees were losing, to be honest,” Bogaerts said. “So I’m like, ‘If we get a win tonight, we’ll be good.’ ”
He didn’t think he was going to see a pitch worth swinging at from Tigers reliever Blaine Hardy. On a 2-and-1 count, Bogaerts said he wanted to be aggressive.
“He threw the changeup,” Bogaerts said, “So I just kind of waited on it.”
Bogaerts laced a liner to center, Betts wheeled around from second, sliding in to beat the tag on a close play at the plate that was reviewed for 4 minutes, 36 seconds.
“The replay even took extra innings, seemingly, as long as it went,” Farrell joked.
Bogaerts waited on the field with teammates for the ruling to come down. His jersey had already been ripped off in the celebration.
“I wanted to know what was going to happen if he was out,” Bogaerts said. “I’ve got to get another jersey? I don’t know what was going to happen.”
Once it was confirmed, the Sox left the field with their third walkoff win of the season.
“Much needed, that’s for sure,” Bogaerts said. “We had a tough road trip, we’ve got a long homestand right now. We’ve got to win as [many] games as possible and you never know what can happen.”