SEATTLE — The idea that the Red Sox would go into their final homestand of the season fighting for a playoff berth seemed unlikely on Opening Day.
The Sox had what appeared to be fourth-place talent, a placeholder roster as Chaim Bloom worked to collect better players for the future.
The idea that the Red Sox would go into their final homestand of the season fighting for a playoff berth seemed equally unlikely on July 4.
The Sox had a firm grip on first place in the division and the best record in the American League thanks to a formidable lineup backed by a better-than-expected pitching staff.
Now the Red Sox will indeed return to Fenway Park on Friday night to start an eight-game homestand with a playoff berth well within their reach after a 9-4, 10-inning victory against the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday.
Depending on your view of baseball and other important matters, that’s either an exciting development or a big disappointment.
Manager Alex Cora knows which version he prefers.
“Not too many people thought that the last homestand of the season, it was going to mean something,” he said. “And now it means a lot. Hopefully it’s going to be fun Friday and the rest of the week, and we can take care of business.”
At 83-65, the Sox are essentially tied for the top wild card with the Blue Jays and Yankees with 14 games to play, nine of them against the white-flag-waving Orioles and Nationals.
At this point, the Sox are playing what amount to playoff games to get to actual playoff games. They are 8-6 in September with eight of the games decided by one run.
“If you just stay on path and focus on the next pitch and the next hitter, which is what our guys have been doing, then it doesn’t become too much. It doesn’t become too overwhelming,” said Adam Ottavino, who picked up four big outs on Wednesday prior to the Sox scoring six runs in the 10th inning.
The game played out much like the season. The Sox started fast then struggled before regaining their footing in time to avoid disaster.
They led, 3-0, after two innings. Then the daily dose of poor defense got in the way.
Rookie righthander Tanner Houck retired the first seven hitters he faced before Jarred Kelenic singled.
When Tom Murphy singled to right, Kelenic headed for third. The throw from Hunter Renfroe bounced into the camera well and Kelenic scored as Murphy moved up to second.
The fundamentally sound play would have been to hit the cutoff man and keep the double play in order.
“Overly aggressive,” Cora said. “It put us in a bad spot.”
It was Renfroe’s 12th error, the most by an outfielder in the majors this season.
J.P. Crawford walked before a wild pitch moved the runners up. Kyle Seager’s two-out double down the left-field line scored two runs.
The Sox had one hit over the next seven innings, the Mariners three. Neither team came close to scoring.
But the 10th inning was eventful.
A passed ball scored ghost runner Jack López with the go-ahead run. J.D. Martinez (RBI single), Kyle Schwarber (two-run single), and Christian Vázquez (two-run double) then put the game away as the Mariners tried three relievers.
The Sox are 8-1 in extra-inning games on the road and 11-5 overall. Taking two of three from Seattle (78-68) also served to deflate the Mariners’ playoff hopes.
Ottavino (7-3) was the winner. Five Sox relievers allowed one unearned run over 5⅔ innings.
The bullpen worked 26⅓ innings on the 3-3 trip and allowed two earned runs.
The Sox are 10-9 since the start of their COVID-19 outbreak on Aug. 27 thanks to effective management of the pitchers they have on a given day.
“It’s playoff baseball. It feels that way and it is tough, to be honest with you,” Cora said.
But José Iglesias, who signed with the Sox on Sept. 6 after being released by the Angels, is having fun.
He was 2 for 2 with a walk on Wednesday and has given the Sox quality innings at second base, a position he hadn’t played since 2013 when he was with the team as a rookie after being signed out of Cuba.
“It was a great team win. Each and every [player] did their part,” he said. “We’re taking it one day at a time.”