CLEVELAND — When Jarren Duran got his second chance at the big leagues this year, he said he wanted to play like a player with his hair on fire. Reckless abandon.
The Sox outfielder hid his own tool set in 2021. Overwhelmed by the moment. Too much in his own head, common for a rookie. The speed, you saw it when he ran down the first base line or went from first to third, or dashed from first to home, or even home to home. But when he had time to think, to make a decision, the calculations would sometimes kill the gift. He had just two steals in 33 games.
Duran told himself that would never be the case again.
In Saturday’s come-from-behind 4-2 victory against the Guardians, you saw the Duran who made his promise of redemption.
Certainly, Alex Verdugo’s homer off Shane Bieber in the sixth inning played a huge role in a win that moved the Sox to 10 games above .500 (41-31), giving them a half-game lead over the Blue Jays for second place in the American League East.
Nevertheless, Duran was this contest’s heartbeat shadowed by relentless effort. The angst he created in his opponent at the plate and on the bases was palpable.
His 4-for-5 evening included two steals. He was daring on the base paths. His RBI single up the middle in the ninth gave the Sox a two-run advantage. He was focused on hitting line drives. Not homers. Those don’t truly showcase his talent.
This was Duran’s game. His dominant performance built on his promise of audacity.
After the game, standing a few feet from his locker, all he could do was smile as he reflected on his game and his team’s victory.
“It’s been fun, running the bases,” Duran said. “I have [first base] coach Rámon Vázquez in my ear who is the best at first base, man, he’s got me all this information over there. It’s awesome.”
Vázquez tells Duran pitchers’ tendencies, their times from the mound to home, so Duran can have a better feel for when to take off. The information is helpful. So is the affirmation from his peers.
“I remember J.D. [Martinez] told me, ‘If I had your speed I would be stealing all the time,’ ” said Duran, still smiling. “So I think about that when I get kind of hesitant, like, ‘Well, J.D. says he would have stole so I should probably steal some.’ ”
The Sox had few answers for Bieber early. He allowed two hits — one of which was Duran’s leadoff single to beat the shift in the first — and held the Red Sox scoreless for five frames. Yet Verdugo’s three-run homer in the top of the sixth ruined Bieber’s performance. Verdugo’s fifth of the season came on a 2-0 hanging curveball, one he parked 447 feet away in right field, giving the Sox a 3-2 advantage.
“He’s a good hitter. We know that,” manager Alex Cora said. “Obviously, the big swing, that was huge for us. Little by little you could see the quality of the at-bats, and him understanding who he is in the lineup is very important.”
The one-run lead was made possible, in part, because Josh Winckowski surrendered just two runs in 5⅓ innings. Both came in the third, beginning with an Amed Rosario RBI triple to the right-center field wall, followed by a José Ramirez sacrifice fly. Winckowski struck out four and walked one.
“I felt pretty good,” Winckowski said. “I did what I should do most games, threw to contact, didn’t walk a lot of people and kept us in the game.”
The bullpen worked the rest of the way, holding the Guardians in check. Tanner Houck closed the door in the ninth on just seven pitches.
“We feel a lot better than earlier in the season,” Cora said of his bullpen. “We can mix and match.”
Duran made a mental blunder prior to Verdugo’s homer in the sixth which looked as if it would cost the Sox a rally.
Duran led off the inning with a double. The Sox had their best hitter at the plate in Rafael Devers and Duran ran into an out at third base when he attempted to swipe the bag on a pitch in the dirt.
Cora talked to him about that, saying they want him to be aggressive but in that situation, you can’t be overly aggressive with Devers at the dish.
Still standing near his locker, still smiling, Duran acknowledged the mistake.
“It kind of got me in a little trouble there and I got thrown out at third,” Duran said of his newfound fearless style of play. “So I had to tone it back a little bit.”
The development and evolution of a player is built through trial and error. This is the evolution of Duran. The man with his hair on fire. The one who promised audacity in the performance.
So far, mistakes and all, it’s been working.