HOUSTON — The Red Sox were in dire need of some offense, batting .237 with a .667 OPS in their last 10 games.
So, who better than Rafael Devers to get the team out of its rut?
The Sox activated their All-Star third baseman off the injured list and the team immediately felt his presence.
Houston starter Cristian Javier held the Red Sox scoreless through the first three frames, carrying a 1-0 lead into the top of the fourth inning. Much of his success against the Sox came on his four-seam fastball, a pitch he relied on more than 80 percent of the time through three.
Tommy Pham, who struck out in his first at-bat as a Red Sox, was all over Javier the second time around, lacing a 95 mile-per-hour heater up the middle that left Pham’s bat at 110.7 m.p.h. Devers, though, would one-up his new teammate, stinging a screaming line drive into the corner in right field, giving Pham time to score from first. Devers ended up with his 30th double of the year.
In the sixth, Devers tagged Javier for a solo shot which ended up being the go-ahead run the Red Sox needed in a 2-1 victory.
“It was just too much Devers,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said after his team’s loss.
No doubt it was.
The Red Sox won their first series since June 24-26 when they swept the Guardians at Progressive Field. The Sox are 0-11-1 in series against American League East teams but have taken four of five from the Astros, the team with the third-most wins in baseball, to take the season series.
“We respect them you know, they’re really good at what they do, and I know they respect us,” manager Alex Cora said afterward. “It’s always intense regardless if it’s April or August or October last year.”
“It’s very important to come in Houston and beat this team, which is one of the best teams in the league,” Devers said. “It gives us a little bit of [confidence], raises our confidence level that we need. It’s very good for us.
Kutter Crawford, despite his opponent, didn’t need any confidence coming into this start.
The Astros are aggressive and like to swing early in the count, ranking third in the majors in first-pitch swings heading into Tuesday.
They did it against Nate Eovaldi in the first inning of Monday’s eventual 3-2 Sox win. José Altuve lined out on the first pitch he saw against Eovaldi to open up the bottom half of the first frame. The next hitter, Yuli Gurriel, doubled off Eovaldi’s first offering.
That approach didn’t change against Crawford Tuesday. Altuve banged a first-pitch fastball to the wall against Crawford that went for a double. Gurriel’s RBI single on an 0-2 fastball put the Sox in a 1-0 hole. Crawford labored for 23 pitches that inning, but that was his only rocky frame.
Crawford, who came into the game with a 2.57 ERA in his last five outings, pieced together his sixth straight quality performance.
Similar to Eovaldi, Crawford quickly recognized that Houston would employ that aggressive approach, and began weaponizing his cutter and curveball early in the count and playing his fastball off those two pitches.
It led to a heavy dosage of ground ball outs during Crawford’s six-inning showing that included six strikeouts. He allowed seven hits, limiting the Astros to six singles, and allowed just the one earned run.
“He was really good,” Cora said. “It didn’t start out the way he wanted it. They came out swinging as they always do, but he was able to slow it down and make some pitches, mixing up pitches and he gave us six.”
The Sox (53-52) are just two games back of a wild-card spot. Cora said they are getting healthy, expecting Trevor Story back at some point in the near future.
The most important piece in Devers, however, was back in his usual spot, and, certainly, the Sox missed him.
“It felt like one or two months there that I was on the IL,” Devers said. “So that’s the longest time I’ve been on the IL and for me, it was a really long time and I couldn’t wait to be on the field and help the guys win some games.”