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Fresh off COVID-19 list, Christian Arroyo hits tiebreaking homer to help Red Sox beat Guardians

Christian Arroyo goes for a celebratory ride following his two-run homer in the seventh inning.Jason Miller/Getty

CLEVELAND — The Red Sox knew they were in for a tough test entering Friday’s matchup with the Guardians. Likewise, the Guardians knew they would have their hands full.

Both clubs have had a dominant June. The Red Sox came in at 16-4 and the Guardians at 15-5 this month, with each having won eight of their last 10.

So when Tanner Houck got into some trouble with the bases loaded in the ninth inning, he had to sink his cleats into the ground a bit more. The Guardians wouldn’t go down easily.

This would be a grind. He yielded a run on a bases-loaded single by Steven Kwan earlier in the frame. Houck responded, though, striking out Amed Rosario for the second out. But a different beast walked to the plate in José Ramirez, an early MVP candidate who has played a significant role in this Cleveland run. The Sox had Matt Strahm warming in the bullpen, but this was Houck’s game. His mess to fix. The Sox’ approach against Ramirez? Don’t let him beat you or get the ball in the air. Stay away from the big part of the plate. Try to get him to chase. If Houck walked Ramirez, manager Alex Cora was fine with that.

Ultimately, Ramirez grounded out to Trevor Story at second to end it. The Sox won the first of a three-game set, 6-3.

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Observations from the game:

▪ The Sox got just two runs off Cleveland starter Cal Quantrill, beginning with a Christian Arroyo hit by pitch with the bases loaded in the second, and then a Rafael Devers solo shot in the third. It was Devers’s 17th homer of the season. If you look at Quantrill’s body of work, 5 innings, 5 hits, 4 strikeouts, you might assume he had a solid day. Not quite. Quantrill threw a whopping 36 pitches in the second inning that included two walks, which ultimately loaded the bases before the Arroyo hit by pitch.

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The Sox made him work, too, fouling off 21 pitches and swinging and missing just eight times. That helped drive his pitch count up to 89, forcing the Guardians to dig into their bullpen, and that’s when the Sox really went to work.

▪ With the game still tied in the seventh, the Sox put together a three-run inning to make it a 5-2 ballgame. Cora pinch hit Rob Refsnyder for Jackie Bradley Jr. and Refsnyder negotiated a walk to get things going against reliever Bryan Shaw. Then with no outs in the inning, Arroyo, who was just activated off the COVID-related injured list, belted a two-run shot.

“I think the biggest thing is coming here and just relaxing, just playing the game,” said Arroyo after finishing the night 3 for 4 with three RBIs and a run scored. “Obviously one through nine, we all try to impact the game one way or another. So it’s just trying to stay within yourself and just keep the line moving.

Alex Verdugo doubled down the line in left, extending the Sox’ lead to three.

Refsnyder made his presence felt more in the ninth, lacing an RBI double down the left-field line. The Sox didn’t do this against any ordinary bullpen, either. The Guardians’ bullpen entered the game with a 2.94 ERA, third best in the majors behind the Astros and the Yankees. Their 1.08 WHIP was the best in the majors.

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“They’re really good at what they do,” Cora said. “We put together good at-bats. We feel good about where we are. We’re just happy we get a chance to win the series tomorrow.”

▪ Nick Pivetta has been the Sox’ best starter this year. He went into Friday with a 1.77 ERA and 0.84 WHIP over his last nine starts, holding opponents to a .163 batting average over that span.

He matched some of that brilliance, going seven innings against the Guardians, surrendering just two runs on nine hits to pick up his eighth win of the season. Pivetta had a shaky first inning but rebounded.

Kwan and Rosario delivered back-to-back singles to start the game. After a Ramirez pop out, Josh Naylor belted a ball into the right-center field gap that Jarren Duran tracked down for the out. Kwan tagged up, moving to third. With two outs, Pivetta had to battle Oscar Gonzalez, who wouldn’t give in. Gonzalez fouled off five pitches, working the count to 3-2. On the eighth pitch, Pivetta got Gonzalez to swing through a curveball out of the zone.

“My heart rate was rather low in that situation still early in the game’” Pivetta said. “I try not to make the game too big or too grand. I think it’s just staying within yourself competing and allowing yourself to compete with the pitches you have.”

He threw 18 pitches in the first and 15 in the second. But he settled down and after six innings he had just 79 pitches. In the end, Pivetta tossed 98 pitches in seven innings. He allowed an RBI single by Myles Straw in the second, and a solo shot by Andres Gimenez in the fourth. It’s the sixth time this season Pivetta has pitched seven-plus innings and the ninth time this year he’s gone six-plus.

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“I think the consistency has helped me get comfortable in those situations to allow myself to prepare to go deeper in baseball games,” Pivetta said.


Julian McWilliams can be reached at julian.mcwilliams@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @byJulianMack.