On one hand, the arrival of the Astros at Fenway Park highlighted all that had gone wrong for the Red Sox in 2022. The surging Astros had won 12 of their prior 13 to improve to 23-12, one of the best starts in franchise history. The Sox carried a 13-21 mark, worst in the AL East.
Yet the reunion also served as a reminder: It was just seven months ago that the Red Sox led the Astros, two games to one, in the best-of-seven ALCS, a postseason run that led to visions of long-term contention. Perhaps emboldened by the refreshed memory, the Sox overcame not only a pair of blown one-run leads but also a seventh-inning deficit to claim a 6-3 victory over Houston Monday night.
“These organizations have been going head-to-head since 2017. We’re very familiar with each other,” said Sox manager Alex Cora. “That’s a really good team. We grinded with them.”
The win was secured in the bottom of the eighth inning on the strength of two Red Sox pillars who have tried to buttress their crumbling offense all season.
With the game tied, 3-3, J.D. Martinez drilled a one-out double to drive in Kiké Hernández (2 for 4, two runs, double). Xander Bogaerts — serenaded with chants of “Re-sign Xander” by the remnants of a crowd of 29,706 that had been thinned by a 98-minute rain delay — then put the game away by blasting a two-run homer to left off Houston righty Hector Neris.
“Yeah, I heard it,” Bogaerts said of the chants. “You always feel the love and appreciation around here. Just coming up through the system and being here for a long time to this point, it’s been fun.
“A game that got a lot of rain, you don’t even know how many people are going to be sticking around and seeing if the game is going to go ahead.
“I heard it. I just told myself, ‘Listen, brother, just don’t strike out. Put it in play, see what happens. Just don’t strike out.’ ”
The excellence of Bogaerts and Martinez (.321/.370/.541) has offered the Sox a steadying element across their early struggles, and a promise that if a couple of struggling teammates gain their footing, the offense has a chance to emerge from its malaise. On Monday, the Sox received a promising sign.
With the Sox down, 3-2, in the seventh, Trevor Story blasted a 428-foot solo homer to left — his second homer of the year and first at Fenway as a member of the Red Sox. It was part of an impressive all-around game for the first-year second baseman, who also made a gorgeous diving play while also contributing a walk and stolen base.
“We need this guy to get going and we understand how important he is to what we’re trying to accomplish,” said Cora. “He’s a good player. The player is dynamic and a great athlete. It’ll be fun when he gets going and helps us win games.”
The Sox were in position to come back thanks to the solid work of starter Garrett Whitlock (five-plus innings, three hits, two runs) and a bend-don’t-break performance by the bullpen over the final four innings. Whitlock and Astros counterpart Jake Odorizzi opened with three scoreless innings, after which the teams exchanged one-run volleys through the middle innings.
The Red Sox took a 1-0 lead in the fourth, the Astros tied it in the fifth on a Chas McCormick homer off Whitlock, and the Red Sox responded with another run to claim a 2-1 lead in the fifth — an inning that concluded in gut-wrenching fashion with Odorizzi taken off the field on a cart after suffering a left leg injury while running from the mound to cover first. He is on crutches and will undergo further tests Tuesday.
Houston tied it by scratching out a run in the top of the sixth.
Then came the rain. Most left. Those who remained made themselves heard.
“It was a long rain delay, probably a lot of people buying adult beverages,” chuckled Cora. “They were loud and into it. It was kind of fun to have that vibe out there.”
Yet the vibe soon soured, as the Astros got a pair of hits off Matt Barnes — a looping double to left by Jason Castro, a roller up the middle by Jose Altuve — to scrape out a run and take a 3-2 lead.
But Matt Strahm (2-1) continued his superb season by recording five outs — three by strikeout — and opening the door for Story to knot the game before Martinez and Bogaerts allowed the Sox to take the lead.
Hansel Robles closed the contest with a scoreless ninth, becoming the first Sox reliever this year to record a second save.
With the victory — their third in four games — the Sox moved out of last place for the first time since May 5. Finally, they are in a stretch in which different components are combining to play winning baseball. For a team that has disappointed to this stage of the campaign, this represents if not the start of a turnaround then the first glimpse of the possibility of one.
“We’re playing pretty much our best we’ve been playing all year the last couple games, to be honest,” said Bogaerts.