It is debatable whether Saturday’s 10-1 blowout loss by the Red Sox to the Rangers, one in which Boston committed five errors and had numerous additional misplays, represented the low point of the team’s season. But it’s clear that the loss represented a looking-glass moment, one that forced team-wide introspection in advance of Monday’s 8-4 walkoff victory.
Manager Alex Cora decried his team’s “embarrassing” effort on Saturday night, yet that message wasn’t only delivered in his postgame remarks to the media.
“I try to keep our business here, in house. But I won’t go to the media just to go to the media sending messages,” Cora said on Monday morning. “[The players] know how I felt after the game the other day — not through you guys.”
The message, evidently, sank in. According to reliever Garrett Whitlock, prior to Monday’s 1 p.m. start, veterans Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez called a players-only meeting. Bogaerts, Martinez, and lefthander Chris Sale spoke to their teammates.
“It was just great to have those guys lead us and push us forward,” Whitlock said in a postgame interview on WEEI. “Those are the guys that we look up to, especially as a rookie.”
“This is our group. This is who we are,” Whitlock relayed. “We know we have got each other’s backs. We’re going to take it one day at a time and win each day.”
What does that mean in practical terms? During the Red Sox’ recent struggles, games rapidly mushroomed from bad to worse. The team often looked pulseless during a 7-15 stretch. Deficits made defeats feel preordained.
To outfielder Alex Verdugo, the meeting identified a necessary trait that had gone absent.
“Energy — that’s the biggest thing,” said Verdugo. “We had a little player meeting. We’re going to keep that in-house for the most part, but the biggest thing to come from it was just we want to play energized. That’s it. It doesn’t matter if something good is happening, bad is happening. It feels good to hear that. When you’re in the box and hear your guys cheering you on from the dugout, it makes a hitter lock in a little bit more.
“Some people think that’s what Little Leaguers do. Well, that’s what brings energy. That’s what gets you going. When I’m hitting and I hear guys cheering me on from my dugout, I take a foul ball and they’re like, ‘That a boy — you’re right on it!’ It fires you up. It definitely makes you want to get that next pitch that much more.”
That approach, Verdugo suggested, could be felt in a pivotal moment Monday. With the Red Sox trailing, 4-3, with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning, Rafael Devers batted with Bogaerts on first. He fell behind by chasing a first-pitch slider out of the zone, then took a slider over the middle of the plate for a second strike.
Devers, dismayed about letting a crushable pitch go undisturbed, kicked at the dirt three times. Yet his teammates did not let him concede to his frustration.
“[Sox players were] just yelling from the dugout, yelling at him, ‘Win this pitch. Win this pitch. Whatever happened was in the past. Learn from it, flush it, go forward, and just win that next pitch,’ ” said Verdugo. “That’s exactly what he did.”
Devers drilled an 0-2 slider 414 feet into the triangle for a game-tying, run-scoring double. That blast extended the game into the 11th inning, long enough for the Red Sox to secure the win on a Travis Shaw grand slam.
It’s impossible to say whether the meeting influenced what took place on Monday, when the Red Sox shook off what could have been a potentially crushing loss. And if it did have an effect, no one with the Sox can say how long it will last.
But on Monday, Sox players seemed convinced that the conversation hit the right note for a team trying to move forward from a debacle.
“We’re out there playing, giving it our all, for 162 games a year,” said Verdugo. “We just felt like it was the right time [for a meeting]. It felt like it was what the boys needed. Obviously coming out today and having the big win is huge.”