The Red Sox have had their way with the Yankees this month. They have shrewdly taken the extra bag when needed, keeping their stagnant and slow-footed rivals on their toes. They have overwhelmed them with precision, timing, and making pitches when the club needed them most.
Saturday was no different, as Boston made it five straight wins against New York to start the season, winning 4-2 at Fenway Park.
Nate Eovaldi (8-4) came within an out of eight shutout innings against his former team, while the offense delivered three of its four runs via sacrifice flies. The Sox nearly needed them all after Hirokazu Sawamura walked all three batters he faced in relief of Eovaldi, but Adam Ottavino got Luke Voit to ground out with the bases loaded.
Ottavino, working his third straight game, handled the ninth as well, Matt Barnes having worked the last two nights. New York got within two, DJ LeMahieu following an eighth-inning solo homer with a two-out RBI single for his fourth hit of the game. But Aaron Judge swung through a 96-m.p.h. outside fastball as the potential go-ahead run, giving the Sox a chance at a sweep Sunday.
“It’s definitely a big win,” Eovaldi said after his 7⅔ innings. “Everything felt really good for me tonight, other than the splitter, but I was still able to mix that early in the count. Just to keep the hitters off of it.”
Eovaldi put together a stellar performance that helped propel his club to a win, but so did its performance on the base paths.
The Sox loaded the bases against New York’s Jordan Montgomery (3-2) with no outs in the second inning, then went ahead on a Kiké Hernández sac fly. That’s when Rafael Devers caught Yankees first baseman Voit napping.
Voit drifted toward foul territory on a Bobby Dalbec pop up just behind first base. Voit recorded the out with an over-the-shoulder catch and Devers, on third base, took advantage of his failure to quickly turn back to the plate, tagging up and scoring standing up.
“He’s an athlete,” Cora said. “You know, it’s just the presence of mind when he saw Voit going back. He knows he doesn’t have a good arm. He took off. He was flying. That was an amazing job by him and [third base coach Carlos Febles].
The Sox weren’t done yet, though. Neither was Devers.
In the bottom of the third with two outs, Xander Bogaerts ripped a double off the wall in center. Devers then beat out a grounder to shortstop Gleyber Torres to keep the inning alive, the Sox getting the out call overturned via replay. Next, Hunter Renfroe beat out a soft grounder to LeMahieu — who double-clutched before throwing — for a 3-0 lead.
Cora’s emphasis on playing fast heading into spring training, coupled with attention to detail, has paid off.
“We do believe that we can take advantage in certain situations,” Cora said. “We were very aggressive against the Rays. We’ve been very aggressive against the Yankees. Playing fast works. It doesn’t matter. It’s not about stealing bases.”
Cora watched from afar last year as his then-former team struggled to play fast. Frankly, they didn’t have many athletes (with the exception of Jackie Bradley Jr.), and Devers lost a step due to an ankle injury.
Teams turned 51 double plays against the Red Sox last year in the 60-game shortened season, tied for the third-most in the majors. Through 77 games this year, teams have converted just 45. Meanwhile, opponents have turned 74 double plays against the Yankees.
Tonight's mood: pic.twitter.com/DcOnaJHoAq— Red Sox (@RedSox) June 27, 2021
Ottavino’s save took guts. The reliever said he felt fatigue on the mound, so his strikeout pitch to Judge brought out emotion in the often-stoic reliever.
“I was just trying to mix it up and not give him anything that he can put in the air,” Ottavino said.
Indeed, it was an all-around team win, but Cora’s demand to play faster early this spring certainly made its way to the forefront.
“It’s about good leads, good secondaries, taking the extra base,” Cora said. “And we did a good job.”
Julian McWilliams can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @byJulianMack.