Red Sox manager Alex Cora knew Rafael Devers would break out of his doldrums at the plate.
After his All-Star third baseman went 0 for 5 in a loss to the Yankees Saturday, plunging Devers into a 4 for 41 slump, Cora didn’t question his young slugger’s ability to get back on track.
“He’ll be OK,” Cora noted.
Frankly, how could Cora even doubt it?
Devers is too special of a hitter. Too special of a talent. As soon as an opposing team believes it has him down and out, Devers comes out swinging.
So, when Devers came to the plate in the sixth against Yankees starter Jameson Taillon on Sunday night at Fenway Park, the script felt as if it was already written. The Sox were desperate to produce some insurance runs, to expand a tenuous 1-0 lead and give Michael Wacha the support he deserved after a stellar outing in his first start since June 28.
Tommy Pham, who went 3 for 4 with two runs scored, was on first base after he singled off Taillon. Devers worked the count full, and Taillon attempted to go high and tight with a 96 mile-per-hour heater. Devers pounced all over it, launching it 433 feet into the bleachers in right field
It was the crowning blow of the Red Sox’ 3-0 shutout victory over the Yankees, the suddenly scuffling American League East leaders who dropped two out of three in this weekend set at Fenway Park.
“That’s how they tried to pitch me this year,” Devers said after the game, which wrapped up in 2 hours and 15 minutes. “I tried to make an adjustment and I was waiting on that pitch.”
It resulted in Devers’ 25th homer of the season, and third career 25-homer season tying him with Ted Williams, Tony Conigliaro, Jim Rice and Nomar Garciaparra for most in Red Sox history through a players’ age-25 season.
The work for Devers began earlier in the day during early batting practice. His primary focus was involved making the adjustment at the top of the zone.
Yes, Devers ability to get to that getting to that pitch from Taillon Sunday evening had much to do with his routine and hard work. His otherworldly bat speed, exquisite timing, power, and hand-eye coordination were instinctive. Very few players in the league can dominate the strike zone, let alone with that kind of explosive exit velocity.
Devers now has seven homers on pitches at 95-plus miles per hour. He trails just Juan Soto and Aaron Judge for the most in that category, and is tied with Francisco Lindor, Freddie Freeman and Christian Walker. That’s impressive company.
“When you’re getting to the fastball and driving it like that at the top of that zone,” Pham said. “That’s just the cherry on top.”
Devers’s 110.4-mile-per-hour single off Taillon in the fourth inning was what helped get him on a roll. That scalded single, too, was at the top of the zone, but Devers was all over it, lacing the pitch toward right-center field.
“‘He’s been saying all along he’s actually not down on his swing,” Cora said. “He’s just missing his pitch. That’s what was bothering him.”
The Red Sox were sorely in need of the return of Wacha, who was consistent in his attack of the strike zone. Wacha showed little rust after his protracted 35-day layoff, throwing seven shutout innings while allowing just two hits and fanning nine.
Wacha was perfect through four innings, retiring the first 14 Yankee hitters who came to the plate before Miguel Andujar dumped in a single with two outs in the fifth.
Wacha’s efficient 89-pitch outing — which produced 18 swings-and-misses, 10 on his changeup —included a nine-pitch first inning, a seven-pitch second, and a nine-pitch third. It wasn’t until the fourth that his pitch count climbed above double digits (14).
“He was very efficient,” Cora said. “And his tempo was great.”
The Red Sox’ 15-30 record against American League East opponents is still cringeworthy. Their last-place record (57-59) in the division is a reminder that the team has an uphill battle if they want to punch their ticket into the postseason.
“We’re starting to click,” said an optimistic Pham. “We’re getting some guys back, so we’re getting a little bit more confident.”
On Sunday night, Devers certainly proved he was back.