With two thoroughly cross-pollinated rosters, the Red Sox and Dodgers met Friday for a reunion of players with deep ties to their opponents. Foremost, the return of Mookie Betts to Fenway Park in Dodger Blue represented one of the most anticipated events of the 2023 season.
Yet Betts’s return was not merely a familial exercise. While the 30-year-old took time to appreciate his homecoming — and the sustained ovation prior to his first at-bat that prompted a tip of the cap (“I was kind of shaking a little bit,” he said) — he also remained mindful of his team-driven purpose.
“We’re here to take care of business,” Betts said.
He and fellow NL MVP candidate Freddie Freeman did just that, serving as the catalysts of a pair of late-game rallies that led the Dodgers to a come-from-behind 7-4 victory that left the Sox running in place in the American League Wild Card race.
“[The Dodgers are] kind of like a fast-break offense,” manager Alex Cora lamented. “When they get going, it’s hard to stop them. We were unable to do that today.”
The Sox had carried a 3-0 lead through five innings behind a superb outing from starter Kutter Crawford and a continued display of power from the lineup.
While Betts received the ovation prior to his first at-bat, it was Red Sox leadoff hitter Alex Verdugo — the centerpiece in the Sox’ return for Betts in the 2020 trade — who delivered the game’s first jolt. He ambushed the first pitch of the game from Dodgers starter Lance Lynn, smashing a 91-mile-per-hour fastball into the visitor’s bullpen for his 11th homer.
“We’re always finding ways to push him. We were like, ‘You were the throw-in of the trade,’ ” said Cora. “He started laughing. [But] I know it means a lot [for Verdugo] to play against them.”
Verdugo didn’t shy from the notion. He was animated rounding the bases, turning to the Sox dugout between first and second and screaming to exhort his teammate.
“I want to do well against that team and I want to let them know,” said Verdugo. “Seeing them here just felt a little bit different and just a little more adrenaline going.”
One inning later, Trevor Story pulled his hands inside a 94-mile-per-hour sinker from Lynn and lined a two-run homer into the Monster Seats, his first longball this year. That gave the Sox a 3-0 deficit, which Crawford sustained through five shutout innings against an elite offense.
Ordinarily, with Crawford at 83 pitches, Cora would have turned to his bullpen to face Betts and Freeman at the top of the Dodgers lineup in the sixth. But the Sox bullpen was depleted, with Kenley Jansen (hamstring) unavailable and the Sox trying to avoid other relievers with heavy recent workloads.
And so Crawford faced Betts and Freeman a third time. Cue the foreboding music.
Betts ripped a first-pitch double off the base of the scoreboard in left-center and Freeman followed by ripping a single to right — his second of four hits on the night.
Only then did Cora turn to a reliever, hoping Nick Pivetta — who threw 74 pitches in a start on Sunday, then relieved in a high-leverage situation Wednesday — could offer multiple innings of relief. The gambit backfired.
“We were asking a lot out of him. Where we were in the bullpen today, we needed him to go multiple innings,” said Cora. “We had to push him today because of where [the bullpen was] at.”
Pivetta’s command was absent. Will Smith was ready for a first-pitch curveball and banged an RBI double high off the Wall. After a pair of groundouts ― one of which scored a run — ex-Sox Kiké Hernández lined a badly mislocated fastball (intended for the top of the zone, it was instead thigh-high) to center for a game-tying single.
One inning later, Pivetta issued a pair of walks (one to Betts) before the fantastic Freeman zipped an RBI double — his 48th of the year, putting him on a pace for 61 — to right-center to put the Dodgers ahead, 4-3. Max Muncy then plated Betts and Freeman with a double to right on a Pivetta fastball down the middle.
Did his poor performance (4 runs in 2 innings) betray fatigue?
“No excuses,” said Pivetta (9-7). “I’ve got to be top line every time I go out, especially against a team like that.”
The Sox rallied for a run in the seventh to make it 6-4, then forged a potential game-tying rally in the eighth. Triston Casas and Reese McGuire singled against Dodgers flamethrower Brusdar Graterol — a pitcher who was originally part of the Sox’ return in the Betts trade, but whose medicals led the Sox to replace him in the deal with Jeter Downs and Connor Wong.
Wong, representing the tying run, ran for McGuire. With the game on the line, the Dodgers summoned lefty Alex Vesia to face the lefthanded Verdugo. Verdugo (3 for 5) was up for the task against his former team, lining a single to right.
But while Wong saw a chance to advance from first to third, the lumbering Casas had to be held at third. The pinch-runner raced halfway between second and third before realizing his blunder. Wong briefly engaged in a rundown before yielding to the inescapable, inning-ending, rally-killing futility of his predicament, submitting to a 9-3-6 putout.
“That play probably cost us a really good chance of winning the game,” said Wong. “Mistakes like that at this point in the season shouldn’t be happening.”
The Dodgers tacked on a final run in the ninth, and the Sox were dispatched by Dodgers closer Evan Phillips (2 strikeouts, 20th save), with Boston failing to capitalize on a chance to gain a game on a night when both the Astros and Blue Jays — the teams in front of the Sox in the chase for the third Wild Card spot — lost.