CLEVELAND — It would be hyperbolic to suggest a game on June 6 was somehow critical to the season for the Red Sox.
But it was starting to get late early for the Bloomin’ Sox, who had lost 10 of their previous 14 and were a dozen games out of first place.
Another loss would have dropped the Sox under .500 and deeper into last place in the loaded American League East. That’s when the chatter starts to switch over to gathering prospects at the trade deadline.
Which explains why Rob Refsnyder turned to the dugout and shouted when his single in the eighth inning gave the Red Sox a lead in the eighth inning against the Cleveland Guardians on Tuesday night.
“I was just yelling, nothing specific,” Refsnyder said after the Sox secured a 5-4 victory. “I was excited.”
He wasn’t alone there. The Sox fell behind early, got a strong start from James Paxton but were in trouble until the eighth when they scored four runs to take the lead.
Cancel the panic, at least for another day or two. The Sox got the big inning they needed.
“Ooh, it’s been a while, right?” manager Alex Cora said.
Refsnyder didn’t start the game but he played a big role in deciding it.
It started inauspiciously in the sixth inning when Refsnyder pinch hit for Jarren Duran against lefthander Sam Hentges and lined out to left field with two runners on and two outs and the Sox down, 2-1.
When he came up again in the eighth inning, it was against righthander Nick Sandlin in a 2-2 game with the bases loaded.
Refsnyder was 4 for 30 with 12 strikeouts against righties this season but the Sox had no lefthanded hitters on the bench.
It was a good matchup for Cleveland manager Terry Francona, as righthanded hitters were 9 for 50 against Sandlin. But Refsnyder worked the count to 2 and 2 and lined a sinker into right field.
That he went the other way against a righthander in a pressure spot helps explain why the Sox signed Refsnyder to an extension last week.
“I was trying to stay inside of it and he might give me a chance to hit the ball over to the right side. I was on the fastball,” said Refsnyder, whose well-defined job this season has been to face lefthanders as often as possible.
But Cora still trusts him in any situation.
“It’s a good at-bat; it’s a really good at-bat,” the manager said. “We like the at-bat against righties. It just happens that that’s his role.”
The Sox had scored only five runs in their previous 36 innings to that point.
The struggle was such that Cora played his infield in with a runner on third and one out in the second inning with his team down by two runs against Cleveland ace Shane Bieber.
Cora was doing all he could to prevent a third run because he didn’t believe his lineup could overcome such a deficit given its recent struggles.
For seven innings, Cora was exactly right. They couldn’t.
“We’ve been grinding, obviously,” Refsnyder said.
Refsnyder also contributed defensively, tracking down a deep fly ball to center field in the sixth inning off the bat of Andrés Giménez. He slid on the warning track after making the catch.
“That one hurt, I’m not going to lie,” Refsnyder said.
“That was a game-changer right there,” Cora said.
The Sox are the eighth organization Refsnyder has played for over his 12 seasons in pro ball. The $1.2 million he’s making this season is the most of his career.
That’s a lot for most people but not in the world of professional sports. He’s been a bargain for the Sox.
“Rob’s valuable. You saw it with what he did at the plate and in center,” teammate Alex Verdugo said. “We’re confident in him. It’s big-time, him coming off the bench and doing what he did. We needed it, we really did.”