It was a moment that will be embedded in the minds of Red Sox fans for some time.
Jarren Duran was on full display in the bottom of the fourth inning of Game 2 of Wednesday’s doubleheader against the Blue Jays at Fenway Park.
Moments like this don’t come around often. If Duran is running and your head is down, you could miss it.
After a screaming line drive in the right-center field gap off Blue Jays starter Steven Matz, we saw what Red Sox scouts have raved about but few fans have witnessed — not like this, at least. It took a brief bobble by Jays center fielder George Springer as the ball ricocheted off the garage gate. It likely wouldn’t have been ruled an error if anyone other than Duran was running. But speed can force mistakes. And Duran has the audacity to think extra bases.
In the Red Sox’ 4-1 win, it was Duran’s near-inside-the-park homer, his triple on an error, that ruled the day.
“I’m just hoping to get on three,” Duran said. “I knew Springer was playing more toward left-center.”
Duran said he was gassed when he started approaching third. That’s when he saw third base coach Carlos Febles waving him in to score.
“I was just hoping I could make it home without falling,” Duran said jokingly.
The Sox were ahead, 2-1, at the time. But Duran’s speed changed that. At one point, it looked as if he would catch Kevin Plawecki, who scored all the way from first.
“Take a look at this kid.” That’s what manager Alex Cora told hitting coach Tim Hyers and Alex Verdugo when Duran made contact. He knew something was going to happen.
Duran is hitting just .172 during his brief time in the majors. But this is the dynamic game-changing speed that the Red Sox were missing and few teams have.
“He’s a game changer,” Cora said. “His speed changes the game, and that’s what we’re looking for as a weapon. And it was fun to watch him run and bases.”
Duran peeked to see where the ball was prior to reaching third base. Despite that, he still maintained top speed, a skill he learned while at Long Beach State.
“In college, we used to preach that we shouldn’t need our third base coach,” Duran said. “It was all about us. We have our head, we can use it as a swivel. We did so much baserunning, and I just kind of developed that skill to be able to look around the whole entire field and continue to run.”
Tanner Houck tossed four innings for the Sox, striking out seven and allowing two hits. His lone run allowed came on a single by Bo Bichette in the fourth.
“I felt really confident with all my pitches today in the bullpen,” Houck said. “It just felt right coming out of the hand early and it continued into the game and the rest was history.”
The Red Sox had their chances in the first game of the day/night doubleheader.
Yet if there was one blown opportunity that highlighted the Red Sox’ 4-1 loss, look no further than the bottom of the second inning.
With the game tied, 1-1, the Sox had Jays starter Robbie Ray on the ropes with the bases loaded and no outs.
Ray, who surrendered four runs in five innings in his previous start against the Red Sox, was vulnerable again. Nevertheless, he would wiggle out of the jam in this one, striking out Michael Chavis and Kiké Hernández, then getting Rafael Devers to fly out to center.
“We didn’t put the ball in play and we didn’t score,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “We got a chance to put them away and we did not. And that’s a good pitcher. There was traffic but I think in that inning, bases loaded, no outs and we didn’t cash in, offensively, that was it.”
The Sox couldn’t muster much offense and were 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position. Cora said Ray kept Sox hitters off-balance by deploying his changeup a bit more. He tossed it 12 times as opposed to just twice in his last start. It drew just two swings and misses, but helped induce 19 whiffs on his four-seam fastball/slider combo — 12 of which came on his four-seamer.
Garrett Richards (6-6) took the loss, allowing four runs on eight hits in four innings.
The Blue Jays got a two-run home run from Randal Grichuk to break the tie in the fourth and a solo shot from Springer in the fifth.
Richards drew a lot of hard contact with the Jays drawing an average exit velocity of 91.8 miles per hour against him. They stung his fastball even more, at 95.9 m.p.h. Richards struck out just two and drew nine whiffs. Cora said the low number of strikeouts isn’t a concern, considering Richards has never been a strikeout pitcher with just 7.8 per nine innings in his career prior to Wednesday. But Cora did allude to something else.
“It’s a matter of how they put the ball in play,” Cora said. “Whether it’s weak contact or hard contact. That’s something that we’ll keep working on. The fact that he’s found the strike zone and that he’s still in the strike zone with good stuff and throwing strikes is always good for us. But at the same time, there’s certain times that we got to put people away and it was inconsistent today in that aspect.”
Richards has a 7.18 ERA in his last nine starts. Opponents have hit .346 in that span. Richards, though, remains encouraged with his stuff.
“I threw some good ones, I threw some bad ones,” Richards said. “Right now, I seem to just get beat hard on my mistakes. So, I’m just continuing to fine tune some stuff. I threw a lot of strikes today and had really good stuff. I just couldn’t keep any runs off the board.”