Eric Hosmer just missed a homer in his first at-bat as a Red Sox last week in Kansas City. It traveled 410 feet to straightaway center. Michael Taylor, one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball, put his head down, ran to a spot and caught the ball on the warning track before a meeting with the center-field wall.
Afterward, manager Alex Cora told Hosmer to keep hitting the ball in the air. Fenway’s dimensions, Cora said, were a bit more forgiving.
Plus, Hosmer loves hitting at Fenway. His .347 batting average heading into Thursday’s contest with the Orioles tells the story.
With the affirmation from Cora and numbers to back it on his side, Hosmer added to his totals at Fenway in the bottom of the sixth in a game tied at three apiece.
He didn’t need a homer. An RBI double off Baltimore reliever Nick Vespi was just enough. It hung in the air, landing on the warning track just to the left of the triangle in center, scoring the go-ahead and game-deciding run.
“It feels good to contribute,” Hosmer said. “Coming over to a new club, coming over to a new stadium, new home stadium, you want to contribute right away.”
Hosmer, who finished 2 for 3, contributed to the Sox snapping a four-game losing streak in the team’s 4-3 win. And according to Elias Sports Bureau, the win — even though it was just one victory — is still considered a series victory, giving the Sox their first series win against an American League East opponent this year.
“That’s great,” Xander Bogaerts joked when he learned his team won a series against an AL East opponent. “We’re back.”
The Sox (55-58) didn’t see Thursday as a joking matter, though. Nor do they share pleasantries when staring at their path forward.
They are still last in their division and are the only club in this division with a losing record. At the game’s end Thursday, the Sox were still 4½ games back of a wild-card spot.
“The math doesn’t help us,” Cora said “but when teams are playing against each other, we have to win. We have to win and we haven’t done that for a month. We’re still here and the guys know it.”
The Sox had Josh Winckowski on the hill and he didn’t disappoint.
The Sox offense gifted their starter with three early runs behind two-out doubles by Bogaerts and Alex Verdugo.
Verdugo’s two-bagger sailed over the head of outfielder Cedric Mullins to score Bogaerts.
The Sox made it a 3-0 in the third, starting with a Tommy Pham RBI double that straddled the third base line to stay fair. Jarren Duran, who was on first, took off on the 3-and-2 offering to Pham and scored easily. Pham later plated the Sox’ third run following a Bogaerts sacrifice fly.
Winckowski induced weak contact by weaponizing his sinker, keeping the Orioles on the ground. When some bad luck grazed Winckowski in the fourth, he stuck to his plan of attack.
Both Ryan Mountcastle and Terrin Vavra registered consecutive one-out singles on the ground. Neither were hit hard.
But Winckowski had some better fortune when he induced another grounder, negotiating a double play ball initiated by Christian Arroyo at second to end the threat.
Winckowski took a shutout into the sixth inning but his stuff began to fade. Mullins singled to right and Adley Rutschman walked on five pitches. Winckowski battled back to record the next two outs, and was one pitch away from cementing a shutout performance.
But the righthander left a hanging 0-and-2 slider that Vavra lined down the right field line for an RBI triple. The next batter, Austin Hays, cued a ball off the end of the bat that did not leave the infield grass near first base. Winckowski couldn’t handle it cleanly, fumbling the ball before shuffling it to Hosmer at first. Initially, Hays was called out, but it was overturned. It tied the game and capped Winckowski’s night at 5 innings.
But the bullpen held on with Austin Hays getting out of the sixth frame and then Matt Barnes having a shutdown seventh, leaving Jorge Mateo stranded at third base after freezing Orioles catcher Rutschman on a 96 mile-per-hour heater. John Schreiber followed that up with scoreless frames in the eighth and ninth.
“Barnes was amazing today,” Cora said. “He made some pitches and used his fastball. That’s what we need.”
The Sox invite the Yankees to Fenway Friday for a three-game set and are in desperate need of a series victory. The Yankees are just 2-8 in their last 10 games, losing their top spot as the best team in baseball.
“Now it’s all about wins,” said Bogaerts. “Obviously we have a big series against the Yankees. I will say they’re not playing the way they want to, so it would be nice to have another series win.”