Urgency hovered over Alex Verdugo’s arrival in the batter’s box in the bottom of the fifth inning.
The steady game-long rainfall had been sufficiently measured to allow half of the game to be played, but its stubbornness was taking a toll. Infield dirt turned to muddy pools. The cold of a 54-degree gametime temperature sank deeper into the uniforms of those on the field.
“The playing conditions, they were definitely a little bit unsafe,” said Verdugo. “There was no secret on how that field was kind of looking towards the end of that game. Infielders were playing in some puddles so we kind of knew it was just, hey, keep playing, keep grinding and try to get to five innings and have that lead.”
With the Red Sox and Marlins tied, 2-2, the game had entered what felt like stoppage time — players at risk of conceding the field to a tarp at any moment. With Red Sox on second and third and one out, Verdugo had a golden opportunity to push home what seemed likely to be the winning run simply by putting the ball in play.
His mission was simple: Get something in the air and drive it into the outfield.
He surpassed that goal. Verdugo crushed a first-pitch curveball from Marlins starter Cody Poteet, launching a rocket beyond the visitor’s bullpen and into the right field bleachers for a 5-2 advantage.
That score became final a half-inning later when Red Sox reliever Adam Ottavino navigated the nearly impossible pitching conditions — he walked three batters — by striking out Marlins second baseman and Springfield native Isan Díaz to end the top of the sixth. The umps called for the tarp, and after 1 hour, 25 minutes, called the contest.
The mere ability to complete a game represented something of a victory for both teams with the Marlins’ only visit to Boston this year calling for a relentless weekend-long deluge. Still, the outcome was significant for two teams within arm’s reach of the top of their divisions.
With questions about the potential duration of the game, the opening proved ominous for the Red Sox. Marlins leftfielder Corey Dickerson laced a Martín Pérez changeup for a single to lead off the second, then trotted home when Jorgé Alfaro blasted a thigh-high cutter that remained over the plate to the opposite-field, depositing it into the Marlins bullpen for his first homer of the season and a 2-0 lead.
But Pérez (3-2, 3.55) settled from that point forward, allowing just two of the next 14 batters to reach — while erasing one of those on a double play. In five raindrop-dodging innings, he allowed just those two runs on five hits while walking none and striking out four. The outing was his sixth straight of at least five innings and three or fewer runs allowed, a span in which he has a 2.43 ERA.
“As soon as the umpire threw the ball to us, it was a lot of water in the ball. It’s hard to throw the ball like that,” said Pérez. “That’s when you have to go out there and compete, no matter what. That’s what I did.”
In doing so, Pérez allowed the Sox offense to find its form. Renfroe kickstarted a game-tying rally in the third by smashing a one-out double down the left field line. Kiké Hernández walked, and after Verdugo flied out, J.D. Martinez crushed a two-run double to center to knot the game at 2-2.
After Poteet got through the fourth, Renfroe played a key role in the decisive rally in the fifth. After Marwin Gonzalez walked to lead off the inning, Renfroe (2 for 2 with two doubles on Friday, .286/.302/.536 with 11 extra-base hits in May) doubled to left to put runners on second and third.
Afforded a chance to drive in the go-ahead run, Hernández jumped out of his shoes on a swing at a first-pitch fastball, then disgustedly cast aside his bat when he popped up the pitch. Undeterred by his teammate’s aggressiveness, Verdugo likewise swung at a first pitch — with very different results.
His three-run homer clocked at 108.7 mph — the fourth hardest-hit homer of his career. It was his seventh longball of the year and his second of the season on a first pitch.
Still, with the umpires electing to let the game proceed into the sixth inning, the Red Sox weren’t guaranteed victory even with the three-run advantage. Cora, recognizing that the game was being played with an emptying hourglass, summoned primary setup man Ottavino for the sixth, the righthander’s earliest entry into a game this year.
Though Ottavino registered two quick outs, his grip on the ball and the lead became slippery. As the rain began to intensify, a bewildered Ottavino periodically shook water from his hat, a frustrating accent to a stretch in which he missed the strike zone with 12 of 13 pitches — loading the bases on three walks. The conditions verged on unplayable.
“Obviously, the ball became an issue. His grip became an issue,” said Sox bench coach Wil Venable, who will fill in as manager on Saturday so that Alex Cora can attend his daughter’s high school graduation. “He did a great job battling it.”
Ottavino overcame the conditions for three final pitches, all sliders, to strike out Díaz for the final out of what proved to be the righthander’s second save of the season. The umpires then summoned the tarp, and the teams scattered.
When they return, it will be to a new reality. On Friday, attendance was announced at 9,005. On Saturday, the ballpark’s COVID-19 capacity restriction will conclude, offering a reminder of hope that extends beyond whatever occurs on the fabled — and, for now, soaked — field at Fenway.