To the Red Sox, a one-game, Monday reengagement with the Marlins seemed a perilous proposition.
While a return to Fenway seemed welcome, a sweltering, late-afternoon makeup of a May 30 rainout tested the team’s resolve. The Red Sox were coming off the joyride of a three-game sweep in New York, but had arrived back in Boston around 2:30 a.m. on Monday morning.
They were without J.D. Martinez in the lineup, without Matt Barnes in the back end of a taxed bullpen, and without any clear idea of where to turn for a leadoff hitter. They were also without self-pity.
“Nobody is going to feel sorry for us,” explained reliever Adam Ottavino. “Gotta come out and win.”
The Red Sox did just that in a 5-3 victory over the Marlins. With the win, the Sox improved to 37-23 at the 60-game mark — a 13-game improvement from their dreadful 24-36 slog through the compressed 2020 campaign.
Where to start? Perhaps at the top.
Sox leadoff hitters entered Monday with a .697 OPS, 24th in the majors. Manager Alex Cora acknowledged that Kiké Hernández and Danny Santana hadn’t been solutions atop the order. So he installed Christian Arroyo as his first batter on Monday, yet characterized the decision as an eyes-closed dart.
“How can I put it?” the manager mused before the game. “There’s no numbers. There’s nothing. ... There’s other guys that are scuffling right now, they’re trying to find their swings, we’ve just gotta find somebody that goes up there and puts good at-bats and sets the table – or hits a home run.”
Arroyo didn’t homer – but he set and cleared the table. He went 2-for-3 with a double and walk, scoring twice and driving in two. He will lead off again on Tuesday, when the Red Sox open a three-game series against the Astros with lefty Framber Valdez on the mound.
“I’m just happy to be playing and in the lineup,” Arroyo shrugged.
The understated acceptance of any role likewise governed the team’s bullpen, which was without Barnes. The Sox wanted to limit starter Nick Pivetta’s workload given his 111-pitch effort last week in Houston, and so the team committed to a heavy burden for its depleted relief crew.
Pivetta exited with a 5-2 lead after 4 2/3 innings, two runs allowed, and 92 pitches — a hook that cost him a shot at a win. He didn’t care.
“It’s not about personal stats. It’s not about personal things. It’s about competing and putting the team in the best position to win,” he said. “[The relievers are] all throwing the ball really well. Even if you come out of the game early, there’s a lot of confidence going with those guys.”
Five relievers ran a relay to the finish line. While there were plenty of baserunners along the way, Garrett Whitlock (one out), Darwinzon Hernandez (2/3 of an inning), Hirokazu Sawamura (1 1/3 innings), Josh Taylor (two outs), and Ottavino (1 1/3 inning for his third save) delivered 13 outs while allowing just one run.
“Everybody knows to be ready for everything,” said Ottavino. “I don’t think anyone cares about the glory or whatever. We just want to do it as a team.”
The lineup jumpstarted that effort in the first. Xander Bogaerts whacked an 0-2 single off Marlins starter Zach Thompson (making his big league debut) with two outs, then sped to third on a Rafael Devers single.
With Hunter Renfroe at the dish, Thompson bounced a curveball that kicked off the dirt and hit Miami catcher Jorge Alfaro in the mask. Though the ball strayed just a few feet from Alfaro, Bogaerts recognized that no one could retrieve it before he advanced. The Sox star broke for home and dove across the plate for a 1-0 lead.
“Great baseball play,” said Cora. “That’s what Bogey brings. He’s a complete player.”
The Sox added to the advantage in the third with back-to-back opposite-field doubles from Arroyo and Alex Verdugo for a 2-0 lead. After the Marlins scored a run off Pivetta in the fourth on a walk sandwiched between a double and single, the Sox — now facing reliever Zach Pop, after Thompson exited with an injury — responded with three runs in the bottom of the fourth for a 5-1 lead.
Arroyo delivered the key blow, a two-out, two-run single to right — his second opposite-field hit. He advanced to second on the play when the Marlins fumbled the throw back into the infield, then scored when Miami right fielder Adam Duvall committed a throwing error on a Verdugo single.
Pivetta gave back one run in the fifth, hanging a slider to Starling Marte, who blasted a solo homer. Two more baserunners that inning convinced Cora to pull Pivetta and start piecing together the bullpen puzzle.
Whitlock induced a pop-up to strand two runners and end the fifth. Hernandez assumed sixth-inning duties, but was done after he followed two strikeouts by allowing a hit and beaning Marlins leadoff hitter Jazz Chisholm.
Sawamura entered but walked Marte to load the bases, bringing slugger Jesús Aguilar to the plate as the go-ahead run. In the pivotal at-bat, Sawamura continued to baffle with the hardest splitter in the game, throwing multiple 94-mile-per-hour nosedivers to fan Aguilar and end the threat, with a crowd of 25,374 at Fenway erupting.
“It’s a pretty unique pitch,” said Ottavino. “I’m pretty sure it’s the hardest split in the game, maybe the hardest one ever thrown.”
Sawamura returned for a scoreless seventh, then gave way to Taylor for the eighth. The lefty put two on but recorded two outs before giving way to Ottavino, who struck out Marte on a 96-m.p.h. fastball.
While Ottavino permitted a run on three hits in the ninth — ending a 26-batter hitless stretch — he stranded two runnersfor his third save of the year, an outcome that permitted the Sox, at long last, the promise of a decent night of sleep.
“We come from a tough series,” said Cora. “To win that game meant a lot.”