As Red Sox manager Alex Cora found out another one of his players was showing symptoms of COVID-19, it became clear how much was out of his hands as the Sox continue to push for a playoff spot.
Three hours before the Sox were set to start their homestand against Cleveland, he was shuffling the lineup he had set not long before.
Jarren Duran was placed on the COVID-related injury list — and it was later announced the center fielder tested positive — so the outfield had to be adjusted. With Kiké Hernández and Xander Bogaerts also on a COVID-IR that now is eight players deep, the infield was already patched together, too.
Keeping their heads above water was getting as difficult for the Sox as it’s been to keep a consistent lineup on the field.
Still, they managed to persevere. They’ve won three in a row, and eight of their last 12 after using a five-run seventh inning to pull out an 8-5 win Friday over Cleveland. They stayed eight games behind the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East and pushed their lead over the Oakland A’s for the second spot in the wild card race to three games. They remained 1½ games behind the Yankees — walkoff winners in 11 innings over the Orioles — for the top AL wild card.
“Obviously, the guys being out is terrible, we hope they feel better soon and get back and help the team,” Hunter Renfroe said. “But right now we’re playing hard, the guys that we brought up [from the minors] are doing great. They’re stepping right in and contributing right off the bat and do an amazing job for us defensively and offensively. So hats off to those guys, and just got to keep going, keep grinding, and keep showing up every day to play.”
With the Sox locked in a 3-3 tie in the seventh after letting an early lead slip away, Kyle Schwarber came through with a tiebreaking two-run double off Cleveland reliever Trevor Stephan.
Two strikeouts later, after Stephan intentionally walked Alex Verdugo, Hunter Renfroe drove the nails in with a three-run homer. Renfroe’s 27th homer of the season was the fourth of the night for the Sox. They’ve hit four homers in a game 13 times this season — the most in baseball — and have won each time.
They Sox grabbed the lead almost instantly, when Schwarber jumped on a 0-1 curveball from Cleveland starter Cal Quantrill and ripped it to straightaway center for a leadoff homer. It was Schwarber’s 29th of the season, his fourth since joining the Sox before the trade deadline and the eighth career homer to lead off a game.
Kevin Plawecki tacked on to the lead in the second with a solo homer into the Monster seats.
Starter Nate Eovaldi gave the Sox 6⅓ innings and largely kept Cleveland quiet. He gave up a solo homer to José Ramírez in the fourth inning, but the Sox got the run back in the bottom half when Jonathan Araúz lifted a 2-1 sinker from Quantrill to right-center for another solo homer that made it 3-1.
But Eovaldi ran into trouble in the seventh. Bobby Bradley tagged him for a one-out single and Austin Hedges followed up by jumping on a 0-1 fastball and shooting it into the Monster seats for a game-tying two-run homer.
Eovaldi gave up runs on three hits and two walks and struck out nine before handing the ball over to Adam Ottavino. After throwing 48⅓ innings over nine starts last season and 67⅔ innings in 23 appearances the year before, Eovaldi has thrown 156⅔ innings this season, the second highest total of his career.
“It means a lot to me,” Eovaldi said. “I’ve been able to stay healthy. Working with our strength coaches, our training staff’s been unbelievable for me. They’ve been able to keep me out there on the field. Just try to keep doing the little things right.”
Ottavino got the Sox out of the inning with two strikeouts before the offense broke it open in the bottom half.
Ryan Brasier came on in the eighth and gave up a two-out single to Bradley Zimmer, then walked Daniel Johnson before giving up an RBI single to Bradley that trimmed the lead to 8-4.
Cora called on Garrett Whitlock to get out of the inning, and Whitlock won an eight-pitch battle with Hedges, who flied out to right to end the inning. Whitlock gave up a run on three hits in the ninth before finishing the game with a pair of strikeouts and the tying run at the plate.
From Jack Lopez getting his first big-league hit to Rafael Devers sliding over to play second base late in the game, the Sox are doing whatever they have to do in order to win games.
“Everybody’s been able to step up at the right time,” Eovaldi said. “We’re showing everybody that we’re able to adapt on the fly and everybody can play in different spots. We’re piecing it together and we’re making it work, and this is the time we need to do it.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.