A three-hour rain delay made the Red Sox’ stay in Cleveland about three hours longer than they wanted it to be.
An eighth-inning Cleveland rally made sure their flight to Tampa would feel like a long one, too.
In what was supposed to be a matinee finale that turned into all-day slog, Cleveland was able to snatch a 7-5 win from the Sox, climbing out of a four-run hole to stave off a series sweep.
After exhausting the bullpen Saturday to pull out a win, Sox manager Alex Cora knew there was a thin margin for error.
“It was going to be a tough one as far as the bullpen trying to survive in a sense,” Cora said. “That’s why we were so aggressive yesterday with a few guys and we ended up pulling that out. But today it had to be perfect — and it wasn’t.”
The Sox were clinging to a 5-4 lead in the eighth when Austin Hedges homered off reliever Austin Davis to even the score.
Oscar Mercado followed up with a single to left and when Yu Chang shot a double into the left field corner, Mercado raced around the base paths looking to take the lead. Even though the throw from left fielder Kyle Schwarber easily beat Mercado to the plate, he was called safe after the umpiring crew ruled obstruction on his collision with second baseman Yairo Muñoz after he rounded second and headed for third. Cleveland tacked on an insurance run on an RBI single from Myles Straw.
Despite the loss, the Sox will travel to play the first-place Rays as a more stable team in the standings, but a more uncertain team when it looks at its roster.
The Sox still secured another series win, and have won six of their last nine. Those nine games were all against sub.-500 teams, which made the soft stretch an important one for the Sox as they push for a playoff spot and also try to stay within arm’s reach of the Rays in the AL East.
Starter Tanner Houck took a no-hitter into the sixth. Despite hitting three batters along the way, he went 5⅓ innings, holding Cleveland to one run on three hits and with four walks and three strikeouts.
“He knew he had to go deep into the game,” Cora said. “He threw the ball extremely well.”
The Sox lineup gave him enough runs to get comfortable early.
Rafael Devers (2 for 4) swatted a solo home run in the first inning, jumping on a 3-0 fastball from Eli Morgan and sending it over the right field fence for his 31st homer of the season.
Bobby Dalbec tacked on to the lead the next inning, tagging Morgan for another solo homer that gave the Sox a 2-0 lead.
Morgan lasted just three innings, giving up two runs on two hits and one walk.
Cleveland reliever Justin Garza came on in the fourth and immediately put himself in a tight spot, giving up back-to-back one-out singles to Xander Bogaerts and Alex Verdugo. After striking out Kevin Plawecki, he made things more difficult for himself by walking Dalbec after getting ahead 2-1.
With the bases loaded, Morgan still couldn’t find his command and the Sox capitalized. Jarren Duran worked a seven-pitch walk that allowed Bogaerts to trot home and push the lead to 3-0.
An RBI double from J.D. Martinez in the fifth gave Houck more than enough cushion.
Cleveland didn’t get on the board until the sixth when Jose Ramirez stung Houck’s 1-0 splitter for a one-out solo homer that cut the Sox’ lead to 4-1. After Houck hit Franmil Reyes and Bradley Zimmer in back-to-back at-bats, Cora called Josh Taylor from the bullpen.
“I didn’t have the best command in the world,“ Houck said. “But some days, it’s going to be like that. It’s about going out there and grinding with what you have and making those big pitches whenever they happen.”
Taylor was able to get Bobby Bradley to ground out to third for the second out of the inning, but gave up a single to Wilson Ramos that scored Reyes and Zimmer and made it a one-run game, 4-3.
Devers gave the Sox breathing room in the seventh, blasting a 3-1 cutter from Cleveland reliever Blake Parker to right-center for his second homer of the night.
But the Sox still had to hang on and they couldn’t.
Reliever Hansel Robles struck out Chang to start the seventh, then got Straw to ground out to first, but gave up a two-out single to Amed Rosario and then a RBI double to Ramirez that cut the Sox’ lead to 5-4.
The game unraveled from there, but as the Sox look to gain ground on the Rays, they’ll try to keep the roster together as best as possible.
“I think this team can recover better than anyone,” Houck said. “We went on a little bit of a rough patch there for a little bit but it’s about learning from those losses. You learn from losses typically more than you learn from wins. So I think that this team is built for adversity and to grow and I’m excited to see where they are that we continue to grow.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.