Familiar dread formed at Fenway on Monday afternoon. In a pattern common amidst a stretch of 15 losses in 22 games, the Red Sox seemed determined to turn all-but-certain victory into crushing defeat, this time against one of the worst teams in baseball.
After eight comfortable innings, familiar ingredients of bad defense and a struggling closer dissolved a 3-1 advantage over the Texas Rangers. After a two-run double tied the game, a shared thought emanated from the announced Fenway crowd of 27,652: This again.
Yet in the dugout, Red Sox players — who met on Monday morning in a players-only meeting led by Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, and Chris Sale — walled off the sense of foreboding.
“Obviously, it sucked to give up the lead,” admitted Alex Verdugo. “[But] the guys’ demeanors, the attitude, the quality of at-bats, it felt like none of that deteriorated. None of that went downhill.
“Guys could have easily been, ‘Here it goes again. Ugh.’ Instead, we stuck with it — stuck with our approach, stuck with our plan, and we executed.”
That outlook helped the Sox shrug off Matt Barnes’s game-tying stumble in the ninth and being down to its final strike in the 10th. In their most notable sign of resilience in weeks, the Sox claimed an 8-4, 11-inning victory Monday. Travis Shaw’s grand slam set in motion a celebration for a team that needed just such a moment.
It seemed difficult to imagine a few innings earlier circumstances that would make a walkoff necessary. Starter Nate Eovaldi dominated the Rangers, allowing just one unearned run on four singles while walking none and striking out seven in seven innings. Texas seemed helpless against his five-pitch mix, particularly a 96-100 m.p.h. fastball, rarely hitting the ball into the outfield.
The Red Sox took a 2-0 lead in the second inning when Verdugo drilled a hanging curveball off Rangers lefty Kolby Allard into the Red Sox bullpen. It was Verdugo’s 12th homer of the season, but just his second off a lefty.
Eovaldi seemed capable of making the advantage stand. He sailed through four shutout innings before enduring his only significant jam of the day — one not of his own making.
After a leadoff single, Rafael Devers fielded a grounder, but flubbed the transfer from glove to throwing hand for an error. After a sacrifice put runners on second and third, a groundball to short produced yet another example of Red Sox defensive self-sabotage, as Xander Bogaerts’s throw clanged off the mitt of first baseman Bobby Dalbec for an E3.
But with one run in and runners on the corners, the Rangers allowed the Red Sox to escape the inning with a 2-1 lead intact. Bad baserunning turned a safety squeeze attempt into a 1-2-5-7 double play.
After the inning, Devers sulked in the dugout. During their pregame meeting, Red Sox veterans had discussed the need to support each other in precisely such moments. Eovaldi sought out his third baseman and offered a hug.
“I just wanted him to know I got his back, help pick him up right there,” said Eovaldi. “There was still a lot of game left to play. You never know how it will happen.”
Those words proved prophetic.
The Sox extended the lead to 3-1 with a Hunter Renfroe solo homer in the sixth inning, his 23rd of the year and major league-leading eighth of August. The advantage held up until Barnes entered for the ninth.
The Rangers quickly struck with a pair of opposite-field singles. After a strikeout, Barnes induced a Nick Solak grounder up the middle. Bogaerts speared it with a dive to his left and made a glove-hand flip to second. But Christian Arroyo, playing for the first time since July 18, tried to catch the ball with his bare hand to spin a game-ending 6-4-3 double play.
Instead, he fumbled the ball. Two possible outs turned to none. Andy Ibáñez immediately capitalized for the Rangers, crushing a game-tying, two-run, ground-rule double to right-center. In his last seven appearances, Barnes has allowed nine runs in 4⅓ innings (18.69 ERA), getting charged with three losses and two blown saves.
But rookie Garrett Whitlock bailed out his teammate, striking out Trevino and Isiah Kiner-Falefa to strand runners at second and third. Still, as the game headed into extras, the Sox courted more danger.
Nathaniel Lowe’s 10th-inning single plated the automatic runner and gave Texas a 4-3 lead. When J.D. Martinez drilled a 390-foot flyball into the triangle in the bottom of the 10th and Arroyo (the automatic runner) was cut down at the plate on a groundball for the second out, the Sox seemed at risk of a devastating series defeat.
But Devers, after falling behind, 0-2, crushed a slider into the triangle for a game-tying double, much to the delight of his teammates.
“[With] Devers going down 0-2 [Sox players were] kind of 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.”
Whitlock (5-2, 1.64) held the Rangers scoreless in the 11th, punctuating his 37 pitches and 2⅔ innings by howling after an inning-ending groundout.
“For him to show emotion, that’s awesome,” manager Alex Cora said of the typically stoic rookie.
A half-inning later, the Sox had reason to show considerably more emotion. Rangers reliever Dennis Santana committed a throwing error on a sacrifice bunt by Christian Vázquez to put runners on the corners, and Texas intentionally walked Verdugo to load the bases and create a force at the plate.
Shaw foiled the strategy with his first hit since returning to the Red Sox, a 423-foot shot that marked the second Red Sox extra-innings walkoff grand slam this century.
“A pretty cool moment,” said Shaw.
For the Sox, an ugly win against a 43-81 club again highlighted the team’s defensive shortcomings, bullpen concerns, and offensive inconsistency. Yet on Monday, none of that mattered, as the Sox enjoyed a rare opportunity to savor a series victory.
“It wasn’t perfect, but we’ll take the W,” said manager Alex Cora. “If we win series from now on, we’ll be in a great spot, that’s the bottom line. That’s what we did early on in the season and we haven’t done that in a while. To win this series was important and now we get ready for the Twins.”
Alex Speier can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.