NEW YORK — If you needed any proof that Wednesday’s 6-5 Red Sox victory against the New York Mets was a must-win game, look no further than the eighth inning.
With the game knotted, 3-3, Sox manager Ron Roenicke pinch hit Kevin Pillar for Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts for Tzu-Wei Lin. Bogaerts wasn’t 100 percent after his diving tag Monday on Amed Rosario, so Wednesday was supposed to be an off day for him, but the Sox were on the brink of dropping five straight. Desperation in a shortened season hovered over their heads in late July.
“We needed to do what we could to win some games,” Roenicke said. “Get that good feeling back. Guys are relaxed. We’ll start playing better baseball. Whatever we can do to try to get some wins, I felt we needed to do.”
Roenicke’s moves worked.
Pillar’s bloop single against Mets reliever Justin Wilson started the frame, and a Bogaerts walk, Andrew Benintendi sacrifice bunt, and intentional walk to J.D. Martinez loaded the bases with one out. Rafael Devers struck out, but a Mitch Moreland dribbler that never left the infield grass broke the tie and a Christian Vazquez two-run single broke it open, stretching the Sox lead to 6-3.
It wasn’t the first time either forced their imprint on the game. The two were responsible for all five Red Sox RBIs on the evening; it was Vazquez’s solo shot in the seventh that retied the game after Marcus Walden surrendered the lead the inning prior.
“I saw that curveball very good,” Vazquez said of his blast off reliever Seth Lugo. “I saw it. I know he likes to spin the ball.”
The night promised a daunting task. Sure, the Sox had Nate Eovaldi on the hill, but they were up against two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom, and Eovaldi surrendered three straight one-out singles to Mets’ Jeff McNeil, Pete Alonso, and Michael Conforto to begin his night. All three came on his cutter, a pitch Mets hitters would see 31 times during his five innings.
Dominic Smith’s force out scored the first run of the game. The deficit continued a daunting trend for the Sox. In their four games prior, they had fallen behind to start each contest, an encumbrance on the offense to come through. That deGrom was on the other side made their job even more difficult; he carried a 28-inning scoreless streak into this one.
It looked to start as if he was toying with the Sox hitters. J.D. Martinez’s first-inning double was the only hit deGrom allowed the first time through the lineup. In the third inning, he mainly stuck to his changeup, throwing 12, including six straight to Benintendi (who walked).
The Sox would break through in the fourth to take the lead, though. Back-to-back doubles from Devers and Moreland tied it, with Moreland advancing to third, then scoring on two deGrom wild pitches.
Eovaldi gutted through the fifth. He surrendered a game-tying homer to Brandon Nimmo, and a walk and a single to put runners on first and second. But Eovaldi induced an inning-ending double play from Conforto, finishing with eight hits against him, the two runs, a walk, and four strikeouts in 89 pitches.
“He mixed his pitches well,” Roenicke said. “I don’t think he was quite as sharp with his stuff. But I still thought he battled.”
The Sox had just three hits off deGrom in six innings, but he fanned just four batters, and wasn’t fooling many toward the end.
“I thought we did a great job battling him,” Roenicke said. “Obviously, he comes out throwing 100, with a 95 mile-per-hour slider and a great changeup, you’re in for a battle. I thought our guys had a great game plan against him.”
Matt Barnes allowed a Yoenis Cespedes solo shot in the bottom of the eighth to make it 6-4, and closer Brandon Workman loaded the bases with two walks and a bloop single to start his first save opportunity of the year.
No matter. Throwing almost exclusively curveballs, Workman fanned Conforto and Cespedes around a J.D. Davis RBI single, then got Cano to line out softly to Jose Peraza to end it.
The Sox, for a moment, could breathe.
“Winning is better than losing,” Vazquez said. “We got the lead with a tough pitcher on the mound. The bats sound good today. We got good swings tonight.”