The Red Sox started this kooky season 11-20 before bouncing back against a conga line of baseball bums from Oakland, Seattle, and Detroit. The Sox also managed to take two of three from the estimable Cardinals, then swept the better-than-average Guardians last weekend, giving them seven straight wins and 11 of 13. They turned a horrible start into a legit wild-card candidacy.
Now if they can just figure out the American League East.
In a wild game that somehow typifies this strange season, the Red Sox outlasted the Blue Jays, 6-5, in 10 innings Wednesday night at Rogers Centre. It never felt secure and wasn’t sealed until lefthander Matt Strahm — who staggered through the bottom of the 10th — retired George Springer on a popup into short center field with the tying and winning runs on third and second.
Man, are these guys glad to be out of Canada.
Must have been quite a scene when the Red Sox crossed the border back into the US.
“Anything to declare?”
“Yes. We can’t seem to beat anybody in our division but are glad to be playing the Cubs this weekend.”
“It seems like the last 10 games here have been close until the end,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “But finally, we got one.”
Beating AL East teams has been Kilimanjaro for Boston this season. The Sox are 8-16 against division rivals, 3-7 against the Blue Jays. The Sox have played seven series against AL East teams and lost all seven.
Division games mean something. In 2021, the Sox, Yankees, and Jays finished within one game of each other. Boston and New York made the postseason. Toronto did not.
The Blue Jays series finale felt like a rare “must-win” in June, especially after the way the Sox coughed up a ninth-inning lead on Tuesday. That one was an especially demoralizing defeat, owed largely to the selfishness of closer Tanner Houck (6 for 6 in save opportunities), who has chosen not to be vaccinated and was home in the Hub when Boston’s bullpen could not record a single out in the ninth.
Generally affable Cora was downright McNamara-esque after that one. The skipper was in no mood to take questions about his personal freedom fighters and his deployment of a anti-vax-weakened bullpen.
Cora was in a better mood Wednesday and had (what seemed like) some good news on Boston’s never-ending vaccination debacle.
When asked about losing Tuesday because he didn’t have Houck, Cora echoed the player-friendly, non-confrontational Sox mantra, saying, “I respect their decisions,” then pivoted to the time-tested, “It is what it is, and we’re going to keep moving forward.”
The manager indicated things may change by the time the Sox play in Toronto again on the final weekend of the season.
“I do believe for September, it’s going to change, from our end,” said Cora. “Let’s leave it at that. I bet you a dollar it’s going to change.”
Presumably, that means that some of the intransigents have agreed to get the shot. Either that, or the Sox are going to trade and/or demote their anti-vaxxers.
The series finale certainly gives the Sox something to build on. They got another nice start from Nick Pivetta, and all of Pivetta’s teammates came out of the dugout to support him when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had a problem after Pivetta hit Alejandro Kirk in the third inning. They got a four-hit game from the immortal Franchy Cordero. All in all, a great night for the Chaim Bloom All-Stars.
The Sox came back from a 2-1 deficit on Alex Verdugo’s two-run homer in the sixth, then recovered from an eighth-inning blown save by head-tilting Ryan Brasier. There was a sense of “here we go again” when Strahm came on to hold a 3-3 game in the ninth, but the long-haired lefty (41 pitches in two innings) got the job done.
Then came the 10th. After Verdugo’s two-run double gave Boston a 6-3 lead, we figured three runs might be enough for Raging Bullpen.
Barely. Strahm was twice one strike away but couldn’t close it out. Cavan Biggio’s two-out double cut it to 6-5 and put runners on second and third, before Strahm retired Springer.
After the weekend layup against the tanking Cubs, the Sox go back to work with 17 consecutive games against the Rays, Jays, and (gulp) Yankees.
Strap yourselves in.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.