Before the St. Louis Cardinals arrived at Fenway Park, the Red Sox had gone a month without playing a team with a winning record. They took advantage of the schedule to right what had been a wayward season.
The well-drilled Cardinals, one of the best teams in the National League, represented a test of how valid that surge was.
The Sox passed. A 6-4 victory on Sunday gave them two of three in the series. They have won five of their last seven overall and are 13-4 in June.
“That’s a really good team and winning that series was big for us,” said Jackie Bradley Jr., whose single in the fifth inning gave the Sox a lead they held.
“Every season has certain moments where you want to see how the team responds and this was one for us.”
Nick Pivetta scowled and stormed his way to seven strong innings allowing one run on four hits and striking out 10.
The righthander was so invested in the start that he acknowledged still being “jittery” more than an hour after leaving the mound to a big ovation from the crowd of 35,989 at Fenway Park.
“For us to come out with two out of three was really huge for us,” Pivetta said. “I think it sets in stone what type of baseball team we are.”
Pivetta, much like his team, started slow and has come on. He was 0-4 with a 7.84 earned run average through five starts, but is 7-1, 1.77 in nine starts since.
Pivetta has given the Sox at least six innings in eight of those games.
“The fastball plays. That’s the bottom line,” manager Alex Cora said. “He gained momentum; he started making pitches; he stayed in the zone late in the game.”
Pivetta struck out the last four batters he faced and came off the mound roaring after throwing 108 pitches.
“My emotions were going,” he said. “I take great pride in what I do.”
Trevor Story, who welcomed his first child in March, celebrated Father’s Day with a solo home run in the second inning off St. Louis starter Andre Pallante.
The Cardinals tied the game with a run in the fourth inning.
But Bradley, whose third child came earlier this month, had a two-out RBI single in the fifth inning. He has hit .313 with 15 RBIs in 31 home games.
Rob Refsnyder, who contributes something every time he plays, had a two-out RBI single in the seventh to give the Sox a 3-1 lead.
John Schreiber struck out the side in the eighth, blowing through Brendan Donovan, Paul Goldschmidt, and Nolan Arenado on 14 pitches.
“Trying to stay locked in that whole inning and make sure I executed my pitches,” Schreiber said.
The side-arming righthander, a waiver claim last year, has allowed two earned runs over 20⅔ innings this season and struck out 24.
Christian Vázquez, whose second child arrived in April, showed his Dad Strength with a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning.
“It was fun. I was trying to hit the ball in the air and get some RBIs and I hit it,” Vázquez said.
The tack-on runs were needed. Tyler Danish started the bottom of the ninth and was an out away from ending the game when pinch hitter Juan Yepez crushed a three-run homer off the billboard down the line in left field.
That forced closer Tanner Houck into the game. Tommy Edman reached on a single and took second on a throwing error by Rafael Devers.
With the tying run at the plate, Houck struck out Donovan to end it.
“Huge day for us,” said Houck, now 4 for 4 in save chances since being named the closer.
The Sox are scheduled to play 33 of their next 39 games against playoff contenders, including seven against the Yankees.
“We’ve got to keep rolling; we’ve got to keep going,” Cora said. “Every series for us is a challenge because we started the way we started.
“We’ve got to keep working hard to get to where we want to go . . . We’re in the conversation now and we’ve just got to keep playing better.”